In the sexuality field we have been having rich conversations over the last many years about both intersectionality and what it means to “call someone in” rather than “call them out.”

Too often when we have an issue with something someone has done or said we feel the need to “call them out” and tell them how wrong they are. You’ve probably heard someone say, maybe even with pride: “Oh I called him outwhen he said that,” “That woman got called out!”

When people are “called out” on something, that thing is being named and pointed out that might need to be named, yet it is often done with an air of superiority, “you should have known better,” or “how dare you?!” What happens when such tones are expressed is that the person ends up feeling shamed about it—and sometimes shaming is, in fact, the intention. It becomes about one person being right and one being wrong and when done in a public way, a person can be shamed into silence and then might avoid speaking up or participating as much in the future. Does that serve the greater good?

There is so much vitriol in the ways people call one another out these days. Facebook and other online and social media platforms make it far too easy for people to angrily point fingers without attempting to find common ground with others, be caring towards them or find a solution. It makes it easier to focus on posturing about who is right or wrong, who is more justified, who is more ignorant and who has all the answers. For the most part, it doesn’t get us anywhere but isolated and upset, which does not help us make anything better.

What does it mean to Call In?

Calling someone “in” is a deliberate attempt to engage them and keep them in dialogue while also naming the thing that needs to be named. It is a more collaborative approach that builds connection rather than breaking it. There may be times when someone means to call someone out and break connection. However, if the intention is to collaborate towards a common goal, to come closer in a relationship or in an effort towards social justice or in building community, calling in is the way to go.

The question becomes how to name something with love and compassion, set any boundaries that need to be set, make a request for improvement, and move towards a solution. If we focus on calling people in we bring them more into the fold, we help them to care and want to course correct and then we all grow. Calling in is the compassionate alternative to calling out.

Intersectionality, what does that big word mean?

Intersectionality may sound like a new buzz word to some, yet it is a concept that is not new and is critically important as we look at the many ways people experience power, disempowerment, oppression and the many identities they may carry in the world. Feminist writer and trailblazer Audre Lorde was talking about intersectionality without using the word when she wrote her classic feminist text Sister Outsider in 1984 (it’s a must read). She called herself a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” and she stated that she could not be expected to make one part of her more important or relevant than another.

Audre Lorde wrote a beautiful essay entitled, “There is no hierarchy of oppressions,” in which she writes:

“I simply do not believe that one aspect of myself can possibly profit from the oppression of any other part of my identity. I know that my people cannot possibly profit from the oppression of any other group which seeks the right to peaceful existence…. 

“…The increasing attacks upon lesbians and gay men are only an introduction to the increasing attacks upon all Black people, for wherever oppression manifests itself in this country, Black people are potential victims. And it is a standard of right-wing cynicism to encourage members of oppressed groups to act against each other, and so long as we are divided because of our particular identities we cannot join together in effective political action…

“…Any attack against Black people is a lesbian and gay issue, because I and thousands of other Black women are part of the lesbian community. Any attack against lesbians and gays is a Black issue, because thousands of lesbians and gay men are Black.  There is no hierarchy of oppression.” 

(Watch the video, or read it here.)

This is intersectionality. Intersectionality is to understand that we cannot take one area of identity in isolation, and that we must see how various social categories like race, gender, class, and sexuality intersect in order to create inequalities and to privilege or disadvantage people, often in compounded ways. We cannot effectively address racism without also addressing sexism, heterosexism, homophobia, ablism, classism and other socially relevant aspects of identity. (If you want to read the original writing on intersectionality by Kimberle Crenshaw, check it out here.)

Doing the Work

We launched a program to help us do this work called Calling In White Women. We want to call White women to the table to do our parts to look at our own privilege, our own oppression, and our contributions and detractions from social justice. We are committed to dismantling all forms of oppression and know that by coming together earnestly to have difficult conversations and to educate ourselves, we make it ever more possible. We are grateful to those women who have chosen to join us. All woman-identified people are welcome and we are grateful that so many people care enough to do this important work. (You can still join us.)

One woman recently wrote to us so eloquently when we asked the question “what are your biggest concerns after the election?”:

“That we won’t take this opportunity to get empowered and create real change (starting with ourselves) b/c pain and fear often lead to people disconnecting/numbing out, or letting their wounded selves run the show and feeding the divisiveness.”

I recently read an interview with a Buddhist monk named Phap Dung, one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s senior disciples, about the election. He said:


“Trump is not an alien who came from another planet. We produced Trump, so we are co-responsible. Our culture, our society, made him. We love to pick somebody and make them the object. But it’s deeper than that. We have to see him inside of us.

We’re shocked because we found out there’s a member of our family that we’ve been ignoring. It’s time to listen and really look at our family.”

But this election was for many of us a kind of “peeling back the veil.” Many people have been trapped behind privilege, their insulation, through no fault of their own – yet it’s obscuring their perspective because they don’t have to see how bad it is. But now, there is no question that this is how it really is.

It’s the pain of waking up, and it can be overwhelming. But my question to you is: how will you see and use this as an opportunity?

Audre Lorde famously wrote that “The master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.” We cannot use their tools. We need to create our own tools and approaches and we need to hold strong to the power of doing things differently if we want to create real change. That means we call one another in, we look at all the parts and we do the work.