i launched UnMinding with the intention of showing people the personal side of cult recovery. what it feels like, the internal struggle, the embarrassing thought processes.
so i’m going to describe to you, what happened a few minutes ago:
i reactivated my “radfem” facebook account. the one where i’m known as Radical Feminist Alicen Grey, and 90% of my “friends” are such merely because we shared an ideology. i never knew these people. they never knew me.
not even a few minutes into scrolling down that newsfeed, it began: stomach, twisting. hands, shaking. anxiety creeping to life under my skin. a vague sense that i was being tested, and judged. i scrolled past familiar names, and with each one, the dread intensified. even after taking a break from RadFemLand, the associations i have with the group must have been too strong to forget completely.
and to really hammer the anxiety home: an ex-friend in the community (who had started off as a fan of my work) had written a status that was clearly about me, giving her (exaggerated) side of what had transpired between us. in the comments, she was given the utmost sympathy, and a few others passed swift judgment on this (fabricated) culprit she described.
i felt powerless to the situation. because it’s happened so many times before:
- being put on a pedestal by the Pentecostal church – and then, demonized for asking questions.
- being loved and adored by my one-on-one cult leader – and then cut off, brutally, over a disagreement.
- being hailed as a hero to the animals in the vegan world – and then, ostracized from every animal rights organization in New York City for calling the vegan movement out on its racism/sexism/etc.
- being celebrated as a trans ally — and then, called a murderer for refusing to blindly accept transgender ideology.
and now, here we are again. i was Radical Feminist Alicen Grey. until i left for a little bit to figure shit out, and a power-obsessed opportunist saw it as a chance to turn people against me.
as much as that stings, there’s a lesson here: ideology-based friends will turn on you in an instant, if it serves them to do so by improving their reputation with the group, giving them more followers, etc. you are theirs to be used, and discarded. (never forget that, cj.)
but even if no one’s hearing me, here’s my side of things.
so why did i distance myself from RadFemLand?
well, before i can tell you that, i need to tell you why i got involved to begin with:
i always cared about women’s issues, and craved a community that shared my passion. but the only feminism i had access to was of the Tumblr variety. so i had a lot of questions, for which nobody could provide adequate answers. questions about the porn industry’s abuse of women. about BDSM. about “sex work”. about transgenderism. every question was met with the thought-stopping acronyms TERF and SWERF, or accusations of “slut shaming” and being a “white feminist” (i’m a woman of color, just, FYI). as with all my past cults, i learned to keep my questions a secret.
until one day, i stumbled across a radical-leaning article. which led me to read another one. and another one. the floodgates opened. FINALLY, i was allowed to ask questions! i was allowed to critique sex work and transgenderism! i felt safe, and validated, and desperate to get involved.
the problem? – i had heard people call radical feminism a cult. as a cult survivor, that was not an allegation i could take lightly.
however, i’m a smart cult survivor. i know how cults work. so i told myself: just stay away from the more extreme sides of the community, like the political lesbians and the separatists, and you’ll be fine.
i believed that being well-educated about cultism and thought reform would protect me from being sucked into the hivemind. i believed information and critical thought alone would be enough of a buffer between myself and the extremists of the ideology.
it is with great shame and humility that i say this now: i was wrong.
it was so beautiful at first.
after writing my first few radical feminist articles, i was flooded with friend requests. some people wanted to meet me in person. i took up the invites. many healing conversations took place. us, women, discussing shared traumas, shared fears, shared visions for a better future. my social life was starting to look promising. i was also inspired to take up self-defense (for political reasons), which improved my confidence.
as the months progressed, things got a bit more intense. i was getting fan mail. i was invited to speak at a radical feminist event in France. France! all expenses paid! and high-profile activists wanted to know who i was, were inviting me to coffee, were asking to read articles i was drafting. that they wanted to be associated with me, was incredibly flattering. seductive, even…
getting involved in radical feminism quenched all the burning questions i’d carried over from liberal feminism. it was the first political movement i’d ever encountered (still the only one, actually) that acknowledged male pattern violence. i felt free to express my deep fear of men, my dissatisfaction with sex, my resentment of gender roles. in that, it was liberating.
so when i witnessed older feminists encouraging younger feminists to die for the cause (a huge red flag) i excused it.
but then the next red flag reared its head: a radfem spitefully using slurs against transgender people.
flag after flag after flag. it kept going.
i have actually heard real-live radfems say that they do not believe women are capable of raping men. i have been exposed to images of horrifically mutilated penises, against my will, by revenge-driven separatists. i have also seen radfems excuse women who abuse men and children, because “they learned it from patriarchy” (meaning, men were still somehow to blame for women’s abusive behaviors. lord have mercy.) when my non-radfem friends dared to enter a discussion, they’d be shut down with accusations of “mansplaining,” “gaslighting” and not caring about women. the amount of casual emotional manipulation was unreal. and there were certain radfems who would go as far as to accuse you of being an “infiltrator” or “government spy” if you associated with people they didn’t like.
i know, i know. “not all radfems are like that!” but every group says that, in an attempt to disown the ones who make them look bad. which got me thinking: to what degree are groups responsible for the behavior of their extremists? when i was a vegan, was i responsible for the militant vegans, by virtue of shared core beliefs? when i was a Pentecostal, was i responsible for my pastor’s anti-gay rants?
whether the whole group shares blame for the behavior of their extremist minorities, is a question that’s been asked since forever. and nobody seems to have satisfactorily answered it yet.
so i can’t say “this is how radical feminists generally are,” but i can say, “this is what my experiences in certain radfem communities were like.”
aside from the cultic red flags, i had my own personal difficulties navigating radical feminism that weren’t necessarily the movement’s fault.
with more and more exposure to information about male pattern violence, my fear of men (which i’ve had since childhood) intensified to an unbearable degree. there were points where i didn’t want to go outside without my boyfriend there to make me feel safer. i started casually expressing an automatic distrust and hatred of men, much to the concern of my non-radfem friends. all i could think about, or talk about, was radfem-related stuff. pornography, prostitution, rape culture, male pattern violence. there was no room in my head for anything else but this latest obsession. worst of all, i found myself parroting radfem quotes and slogans. and when i wasn’t parroting, i was still passively supporting the bullshit by keeping my disagreements to myself.
and then i realized: i was under pressure.
there was pressure from the inside: pressure to pretend i thought “political lesbianism,” “separatism” and “self-objectification” were logical concepts, to avoid hurting friends’ feelings. pressure to avoid mentioning that yes, women can be rapists too. i hesitated to post any pictures of myself with my midriff showing, or of my tattoo, in anticipation of a debate about whether i was “pornifying myself.”
and i felt like, since i owed my writing success to the support of the radfem community, that turning around and questioning those beliefs would be like a betrayal. i didn’t want to be ungrateful. there seemed to be many eyes on me. when’s your next article, alicen? i love your work! i didn’t want to disappoint people.
there was the pressure from the outside, to avoid making my questions about feminism too obvious. because i have a lot of critics. usually anti-feminists and liberal feminists. people who, like predators, stalk my work, waiting for me to make even one misstep or contradiction, so they can rub it in my face that i was wrong about something. “see? i knew it! that cultist radfem can’t think for herself — what a fucking idiot! proof that feminism is stupid!” i feared the i-told-you-so’s.
there was pressure from my ego, to make it look like i had everything under control. i’m not one of those radfems! i’m not being a cultist! i can think for myself! but when some friends vaguely suggested that i might be cult-hopping yet again, i had to admit it was somewhat true.
can you imagine how embarrassing this feels for me? my entire life is just one group after the other after the other. i’m like a group addict. and every time i think i’ve recovered, it turns out i’ve just transferred my addiction to some other “drug.” the most embarrassing part is that everyone sees it before i do. it makes me feel hopeless.
since i’ve become so public about my cult recovery process, i feel like i have to be a perfect example of an ex-cultist. never vulnerable to groupthink, or cognitive distortions, or cultic behavior. i play it off like i’m too smart for that shit. and i do not forgive myself.
the pressures were unspoken, and incredible to any particular source, but definitely there.
i didn’t expect non-cultists to understand this dilemma. so i backed out quietly. as soon as i deactivated that facebook (which is where 90% of my involvement with radfeminism took place — since real-life radfems are hard to come by [it’s not a popular movement]), i felt relieved. and then i read this Ex-Radfem AMA, and felt so validated. just like when i left liberal feminism, i now feel FREE. to ask questions. to commit thoughtcrimes.
on that note: interesting how many women come to radical feminism after having their “peak trans” moment (the moment of realization that liberal feminism/transgender ideology is full of contradictions). and radfems LOVE that. they LOVELOVELOVE that. they open their arms to new converts, bond over the relief of finally being able to question shit, and congratulate each other on finally learning to think for themselves.
but having a “peak radfem” is not met with nearly as much acceptance or understanding. it’s like, “you can think for yourself as long as it’s under the broad umbrella of radical feminism. but not beyond that.”
don’t you just love double standards? i sure do! < / sarcasm>
here’s what happens next:
radfems will catch wind of this blog post, share it up, and gossip about how
- i’m a traitor
- i’m a danger to the movement — don’t associate with me
- i must not actually understand what radical feminism is about
- i never truly cared about women
- i’m misrepresenting the movement
- i’m making mountains out of molehills / being dramatic
- i’m projecting my cult trauma onto their ‘harmless’ group
- i’m just confused about radical feminist concepts, but might still be won-over with some “discourse” and “healthy debate”
- i’m an infiltrator/government spy/snitch
- “nobody’s forcing you to believe anything! your cultism is your own damn fault!”
then they’ll cut contact — or awkwardly attempt to keep in contact with me, to prove to themselves that they’re open-minded and not cultists, no, not at all!
how do i know this is going to happen? because it happens every damn time. it happened with the Pentecostals, it happened with the vegans, it happened with the liberal feminists, and i know it’s going to happen with the radical feminists.
the upside of having been in so many groups throughout my life, is that i can predict their behaviors and always stay one step ahead.
i promise myself i won’t fall for it this time. i like the distance i have from this group. i like the freedom of refusing the “radfem” label, of just being someone who cares about women’s rights, without adhering to a particular ideology.
some challenges moving forward:
- i know this blog is going to be used against me by people with an agenda, like MRAs, anti-feminists and ex-feminists. i guess i can’t stop people from twisting my words to serve their own needs. that happens when you opine on the internet. comes with the territory.
- the awkwardness of having to explain this to any radfem who wants to maintain a relationship with me. and navigating the anger, hurt feelings, etc.
- trying to make sense of my cultural observations (male supremacy, female subordination, rape culture, etc.) without losing my critical thinking skills by letting radfems do all the work of thinking for me. sometimes i think it would just be easier to disown politics all together. like, fuck the social justice warrior mentality! but i know better; i should be seeking balance, not another extreme.
- i have to deal with the “Reality Collapse” feeling again. that’s what i call the phenomenon of having your narrative suddenly (and painfully) disrupted. it’s a feeling every ex-cultist has felt, upon finding out the truth about their beloved groups and leaders. it feels like being spit out of the ocean and left standing in the middle of a desert, with no sense of direction, everything monotonous and boring without the cult to make it exciting and vibrant, nothing worthwhile. there is so much temptation to find a new ocean to flail around in. Reality Collapse is like intentionally choosing to be thirsty when beliefs are water, because you don’t know how to drink without drowning. being a belief addict, and choosing to let go of beliefs in order to heal and recover, is terrifying.
eventually, i’ll probably write about why i’m skeptical of feminism but still critical of patriarchy/male supremacy/etc. (hear that, everyone? I AM NOT AN ANTI-FEMINIST. not-being a radfem anymore doesn’t mean i’ve abandoned feminism completely.) maybe it’ll just be a list of all the questions i have. maybe i’ll write revisions of past articles, with my new perspective.
until then, i’m just gonna stand here, in this belief-desert. a place i’ve returned to so many times, it might as well be my home.