I’m the first to admit I’m an acquired taste.
When you first meet me, I’m painfully shy and have a difficult time carrying a conversation (especially if I don’t find you particularly interesting…shhhhhh…)
And once I warm up, I’m a passionate flailing-muppet-arm word-vomity mess. Without a filter. I overshare. I’m brutally open and honest to a fault. Some may even call me abrasive or obnoxious.
Especially when you get me going on issues I’m passionate about.
This has been something that has become painfully clear to me over this past year on my path to a deeper sense of self awareness.
And so, here I am, with a whole lot to say about things that directly affect me and the people I care about, trying to figure out how to speak about them and gently educate people who may not be aware of them and/or strongly disagree with them.
There’s a fine line to walk and, over the past election season especially, I have witnessed all sorts of variations of communication and debate.
I find myself struggling to be conscientious and fair to all my friends. Since I was brought up in a conservative household and was homeschooled from second grade all the way through high school, there are many people in my life that are dear to me who are religious conservatives who strongly disagree with me on issues regarding homosexuality, a woman’s right to have autonomy over her body, and even gender roles. And, because I was once exactly like them half a lifetime ago, with the exact same beliefs, I have some sense of understanding.
I know what it’s like to feel attacked and be told that I’m wrong for believing what I was taught to believe and knew to be true as part of my church’s teachings. And it sucks.
But now, I’m a queer, shaved headed, intersectional feminist, IUD pushing, gender nonconforming, divorced-from-a-woman person. I work in the arts and the vast majority of my friends are of a very similar mind. Nowadays, most of my Facebook feed is a bit of an echo chamber. Everyone is sharing the same five posts.
And so I see a lot of bashing from both sides. I have seen some horrendously hateful things from conservatives splashed across my Facebook feed. And yes, I have seen some dreadful things from my dear liberal friends as well. And each only perpetuates warring and blame.
My struggle has been this:
How can I make people listen to my side of the story? How can I gain their respect and time? And how can I communicate clearly why these issues are so incredibly, seriously and life-alteringly important to me?
How can I communicate that voting for a certain candidate directly affected my safety in this country, and how this country has become exponentially more hostile to people like me and so many others that I care about?
That I’m not just a “whining liberal snowflake” and that there are serious consequences and lives hanging in the balance?
How can I discuss trans rights with friends and colleagues and educate them without getting hostile when they inquire about genitalia and gender confirmation surgeries? I was in a situation a couple months back in which I was having a conversation with some people about trans issues. Everyone else was well-meaning and genuinely wanted to know about these things, but when that very sensitive subject came up, I snapped “that’s never your business.”
The room fell silent, and I realized I had gone a bit too far. These people were trying to understand something they had never had a chance to learn about, and I flat-out shut them down.
I stepped back a little. “That’s a really sensitive subject and is something that you should never ask a transperson. And it’s a very personal decision. Some people never choose to have any sort of surgery and that’s the way they want it. Some people never choose to take hormones.”
“Well, we’re not supposed to ask a transperson about it, but you’re not [author’s note: I’m what I call “vaguely genderqueer” but I use she/her/hers pronouns in my life and I’m okay with it but I still feel like I belong under the “trans umbrella”] so I was thinking this would be the best place to learn about that stuff, in this conversation.”
They did have a point. To some extent. Doing one’s own research to educate oneself (perhaps online…there’s so many articles about this subject is important, but if they don’t take that initiative, this conversation with me about these things may be the only education they ever get. (Check out this list of Tips for Allies of Transgender People from GLAAD for a broad overview.)
I was torn and still felt a bit weird about it, but I decided to use this discussion as a time of respectful conversation.
I have found myself in situations in which people have told me that getting angry about something only turns people off and pushes them away.
I know that, and I understand that. But sometimes people need to see some passion to realize how serious a situation is.
The line. The line. Oh, where is this thin line where I should go to respectfully educate and listen?
How can I be the best ally for marginalized people, trying my hardest to explain concepts to other white people about how reverse-racism isn’t real or how someone can personally be pro-life but acknowledge that they can’t decide what’s best for others, or the nuances of sexism or homophobia or transphobia or bisexual erasure? (An article on tips for being an ally here, and blog post that I wrote right after the election here along the lines of this current post.)
I’m struggling to figure out how to be a good ally. How to know when to stand up and speak and when to sit down and listen. How to be genuine and not performative, publicly exhibiting how “woke” I am. And how I can use my privilege to talk to others so they’re not putting more emotional labor upon marginalized people.
“Emotional labor” is when a marginalized or oppressed person has to be nice and explain things to someone while being conscious of the other’s feelings. Sugar coating things so they’re not seen as the whiny, complaining, angry person. It’s when people “grin and bear it” so they don’t have to deal with an uncomfortable confrontation, in spite of the microaggressions they face every day.
As an ally, I can do my best to take on some of this responsibility to educate as a “peer” as opposed to a marginalized person. But when a marginalized person pipes up, that’s my cue to sit back so they can speak to their own experience.
And, as a marginalized person myself…I have to walk that delicate line to expend emotional labor so I’m not seen as that whiny, complaining, angry queer person.
And it sucks. It really does.
Sometimes I want to just stand up and scream to anyone who will listen that sometimes I’m scared to stop to pee on a road trip because I’m visibly queer and it’s no fair that I’m a target. That they voted for someone who hates people like me and wants to take away my rights. And that their vote is a personal affront to me. A slap in the face.
A symbol of the fact that they do. not. give. a. fuck. about. me.
Even if they didn’t mean it that way.
I want to yell about how my friends are terrified. That, if they lose health care, some could legitimately die if they weren’t able to receive their cancer treatments. That this is NOT about tax cuts or not being able to buy a new TV or whatever. It is about our LIVES.
And still, in order to make people listen, I have to be that sweet, respectful person who sits back and grits her teeth while people debate affirmative action and wonder why it’s so important to have diversity in the workplace. Silently stewing and wishing I could think of an articulate, gentle response that could please make them understand.
I want someone to advocate for ME sometimes too, in a room full of everyone else. But that makes me whiny.
And so here I sit, still no closer to the answer than when I began.
How do I gently educate people and help them see my point of view without making myself sick, without making myself crazy, and, most importantly, not turn into a screaming, shaking, sobbing mess?
Without turning into that “angry, man-hating feminist?”
The “militant queer person?”
The person you don’t want to talk to because it will just turn into me judging you because your mind is somehow narrower than my own?
Ugh. I don’t know.
But I’m working on it.