Posts Tagged ‘Privilege’

shame

I’ve talked at length about shame and its impact on behavioral change; namely, that when we’re feeling shame, we’re about as far from changing our own behavior as we can be.  When we’re feeling shame, the self is so threatened our only reaction is defensive, and defense is not a great place to begin looking at our own behavior and where we need to improve.

Lately, it’s getting more and more important for people in positions of privilege to acknowledge their own shortcomings.*  I read this as an enormously positive indicator that traditionally oppressed groups are beginning to make their voices heard and push for social change.  However, that means (of course) that people who aren’t so used to actively confronting contentious issues are being asked to react in thoughtful, nuanced ways, and are woefully unprepared to do so.

*We need to understand “privilege” as not necessarily individual, but rather being part of a traditionally valued part of our social system.  You as an individual might not be doing better than any other individual, but as a part of a general group, you have historically benefitted from some aspect of your identity.

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Okay, the title is way more important sounding than this post will be, but bear with me.

veeeeeery important.

Last weekend I was in another state and became very ill.  Severely ill.  Like, three days of nastiness.  While the cause of my disgusting escapades is still unclear (most likely alcohol + woman times + flu), the whole thing got me thinking about sickness and who is in charge of you when you’re sick.

While I was (embarrassingly) throwing up outside of a restaurant at which I was attempting dinner, a friend came to me and continued to insist I “slam water, water is what you need.”

Now, this is fine advice.  And probably accurate; being sick is amazingly dehydrating.  But it’s not really a great idea to pour a couple glasses of water into an empty, heaving, already queasy stomach.  Despite my insistance that water was not really sounding that great and that slamming a glass or two wasn’t the best idea, this friend insisted (and narrowly avoiding it coming right back up).

Grossness of that story aside, it bothered me that this friend didn’t listen to me, emphatically telling him this advice was maybe not the greatest for me at this point in time.  Why did he insist?  Why didn’t he ask my preferences?  Why didn’t he listen even after I was violently ill after following this advice?

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When I teach classes, I often talk about boundaries, those gold plated ideals that make relationships healthy (or not).  Boundaries are really difficult to pin down, even for someone who’s been leading lectures and groups about boundaries for a bit over five years.  In short, they are your limits, what is and is not okay with you.

Boundaries are important to address for anyone, but particularly in cases of abuse and trauma.  Most survivors of childhood trauma (including, but not limited to, abuse) have no concept of their limits mattering.  

When they say “no”, it is not respected; their bodily autonomy, their pain, their mental and physical being, are of no consequence.  Living through this often means adults who are at the extreme ends of the boundary spectrum.  Either one rarely says “no” because they believe it is meaningless, and do not feel comfortable speaking up for their needs (think of a person who is uncomfortable with a full body hug, but does not pull away or ask others to stop, or someone who tells you their life story after just meeting you), or can be completely closed off, avoiding all physical and emotional contact with others, for fear of being taken advantage of.  These are when we have boundary issues.

All people desiring healthy, rewarding relationships need the ability to set limits with those around us (and know what our limits are).  However, just because boundaries are with others does NOT mean they get respected, and this is where things get a bit sticky.

I can assert my boundaries, but that doesn’t mean you’ll respect them.  You have control over you, and I have control over me.

As an example, one of my close friends is constantly calling other people “pussy” and “faggot.”  I find both of these words extremely offensive; not only do I have close LGBTQ friends, I am acutely aware of how language perpetuates prejudice and oppression (with often fatal consequences) and shows my friend’s incredible privilege as a cis, straight white male.

I have repeatedly asked him to not use the words; I have tried to open up discussions about how language is super powerful; I work to make him realize how stupidly offensive it is to use these words.  However hard I try, I cannot control what he does.

If I assert my boundaries, and they are not respected, I have a choice.  I can continue to assert boundaries, and I can leave.  Sometimes, the best assertion is a clear consequence and an I statement.  Put on your learning cap!

I feel ___________ when you ___________.  I would like it ____________.  If you continue ______________, I may have to leave the room/conversation.

I feel uncomfortable when you use the word faggot around me.  I would like it if you could try not to use those words around me.  If you keep using these words,  I may not be able to continue to be around you.

At that point, you can leave and come back, ensuring you follow through on your consequence.  And it’s worth looking at – why would you keep spending time with someone who doesn’t respect your limits, or the basic humanity of human beings?

At the end of the day, you cannot love others using the language of murder, torture, oppression and hate.

I volunteered to work at the Motor City Pride festival this past weekend. I’ve always tried to go to LGBTQ events and I’ve been a frequent attendee of the Chicago pride parade; this was my first event in Detroit around these issues.  

I love pride events because they’re generally amazingly positive. People walk around with smiles on their face, dressed to the nines, dancing and talking and generally having good interactions with each other (that I have seen, anecdotally, in public, only in my experience). Instead of getting catcalled and feeling raked over by men, I get to just be friendly, with less overt sexual innuendo; when I’m approached by a woman, I rarely feel dirty, guilty or endangered if I (politely) turn her down.  

But this is an article about a t-shirt.

Before the event, there were some jarring happenings. My boyfriend told me I should reconsider volunteering “because someone might think you’re gay.” He also told me he was concerned that I might be targeted for violence because I was working at the Planned Parenthood table. After the event, I met friends for a drink; one of them kept expressing his amazement that there were many POC around “I thought these were just a white people thing, black people aren’t so gay.”  Whoa.

I’m a newbie to LGBTQ activism, and definitely coming from a place of privilege; I grew up in a middle class home, I’m white, cisgender and straight. It doesn’t get much more privileged than that. As such, I’ve been working on my understanding of how I can be an ally to the LGBTQ community without pushing an agenda I think people want, devaluating their experiences or making it all about me instead of about the community and people’s lived experiences. I work in mental health, and have members who identify all across the gender and sexuality spectrums. I’m lucky enough to call some LGBTQ folks good friends and colleagues.

Anyway, back to the point. I bought a shirt from Ally tees (www.allytees.com) at the event. I wore this shirt to work today. And it provoked a huge amount of angst and anxiety in me.

In Michigan, you can still get fired for being gay. I work with people who may have bad reactions if they misinterpret the shirt, but more importantly, I was concerned about them misinterpreting the shirt and rehearsing speeches about what being an ally is, speeches that started with “oh no, I’m not gay.” I work in a dangerous area, and thought hard about if I wanted to walk down the street wearing a shirt whose message started with the word “lesbian.”

It shouldn’t matter if someone thinks I’m a lesbian. Really, it shouldn’t. It shouldn’t be an issue for my workplace to walk around in a shirt with words like “queer” and “intersex” on it. But really, the issue is all I was doing was wearing a fucking t-shirt.

If I’m freaking out about a word on a shirt, that’s a function of my privilege. People are in danger of physical harm while walking hand in hand with the person they love. People stress about who to bring to a Christmas party because their boss might find out and they’d lose their job. People are devalued, dehumanized, shamed, blamed and attacked for being the people they are (which my own profession did not stop until the 1970s).

Naming who we are, in gender, sexual preference, and every other way we identify, is not dirty or something to be ashamed of. The people who are open and upfront all the time are brave in a way I can barely conceive, and those that aren’t have my empathy. If it is not easy to just walk around with a t-shirt on, can you imagine if the person you are is not “acceptable”?

Fuck this (cis)tem, man. Fuck the patriarchy. Most of all, fuck thinking our experiences are the only right ones, and other people should bow down to what we think is right.

Lesbian.

Gay.

Bisexual.

Trans*.

Queer.

Intersex.

Asexual.

Ally.

Lesbian.

Gay.

Bisexual.

Trans*.

Queer.

Intersex.

Asexual.

Ally.