A close friend tells me of a choice she made many years back. At the time, it seemed the right thing to do. Now, however, she questions whether it was.
Sometimes, she talks wistfully of opportunities missed, of doors closed to her: even, occasionally, of outright discrimination based on that choice. Regrets?
Maybe a little.
Was she too young to make such a life-changing decision? Probably.
Should medical professionals have intervened more forcefully to deter her from such a major mistake?
OK. That last is mischievous: she is now, herself, a medical professional, so any intervention in her decision – to be a radical feminist – would most likely have come from friends and women following a similar career path.
Nor does she much regret that she once held views that now she doesn’t. Still, there is a bitter sweet tone to some of our conversations. On some issues – by no means all – i am now clearly far more “radically feminist” than she. What that means in terms of labels is another matter entirely.
I will make some observation on patriarchy…on how society remains, in my eyes, unquestionably skewed to the upholding of male values. And she will gently rebuke: suggest that although she once felt the same way, life, separation, a boy child, the myriad experiences of the average woman have changed her perspective on such things.
Its a gentle disagreement. I would never berate her for “selling out” (she hasn’t). She doesn’t tell me off for being one of the “wimmin”. We are civilised about such stuff: we are friends.
The serious stuff
Am i trivialising, though? Because the fact that i am so identified with writing about the trans experience provides an instant layer of added meaning here.
Oh, look: she’s writing about regrets! And – the minx! – she has the nerve to equate regret with radfemmery with other real and serious regrets …like gender surgery! Because what other gloss could you possibly put on this?
You know what? You’d be right. Looking back on my own life, there are many, many decisions i have made at different points in time – religious choices, career choices, parenting choices (including that most fundamental of choices: whether or not to have children) – that give me pause for thought.
Do i regret any of the choices i have made? No! Alright, yes. Maybe. I don’t know. When it comes to self-analysis i’m somewhere between Sinatra and Piaf on the regret spectrum.
What i am absolutely certain of, however, is that throughout my life there have been many points at which i have decided or decided not to do something: that those decisions have been to some degree irrevocable; and that in hindsight, sometimes, those decisions have not been the best.
But mostly, like my friend, i don’t regret them.
Nor – and this is the really serious point: nor do i require that priests, counsellors, medical persons (or any other species of professional know-it-all) stand in the way of my autonomous decisioning.
Still less do i argue that because such-and-such decision radically changed my life and that of everyone around me that that somehow calls into question the intrinsic validity of that decision – or even sets up the need for official policing of me or anyone else.
Whatever you choose – to be feminist, priest or parent – your decisions will have effects on you, on those around you. The same decision will affect different people differently: sometimes life-changing, sometimes superficial.
The constant, across all of these, is that whether the decision was right or wrong – and whether you should be allowed the right to make a particular decision – is wholly, utterly independent of its underlying right or wrongness.
And to attempt, as some do in every walk of life, to use “regret” as evidence against any particular decision seems to me to be quite fucked-up as thinking goes. Either sloppy thinking, failing to understand the fundamental nature of human choice – or mere polemic, grasping at any straw when the wider argument is lost.
Its not helpful.