It's a truism of liberal humanist morality that the first step to hurting someone is denying their humanity, turning them into an object. It's an almost sacred idea. It's (so) “common sense”. The problem is it's absolutely wrong.
I maybe have a closer relationship to violence than most people. I have grown up with sexual, emotional and material violence. I have also studied it for almost 25 years. And I continue to live with it, intimately.
This week, I was attacked by a man who hates fags. I smelled his breadth as I defended myself from him. A lover told me about being drugged and raped by a self-appointed leader in her feminist collective, a dude I casually chatted with the day before.
At one of the support groups I go to: a woman talked about her hatred for her mother who never defended her from her sexually, physically, and emotionally abusive father; a man talked about how each time he hit his wife, he felt at peace; a woman talked about raping her son … and so on.
These are just a few examples of the more extreme violence in my daily orbit. I can't be bothered to count the ordinary, micro-cosmic aggressions I live with: the “friends” and colleagues who marginalize or insult me in the ordinary course of business; the old men at the gym who joke about fags and bitches while I put on garters and panties beside them; the impossibility of even hoping that my gender identity will be respected anywhere I go; the constant stares; the not so occasional comments... and so on.
I can tell you one thing with certainty. The idea that I must first dehumanize you in order to hurt you is hopelessly naive and stupid. I hurt you exactly because I see you as human.
The multiple effects of any act of violence rely upon a person's identification with the body in pain; and their recognition that it is vulnerable, subjective, and (ultimately) just like them. It's a performance of power / agency that hinges upon our capacity for empathy; without it we would not hurt one another in the countless ways that we do.
If you really were, merely, a thing to me, I would certainly not bother to torture/ abuse/ humiliate/ marginalize... you.