Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Intersections

As I mentioned last week, I had a rather heated discussion involving race on Monday last. One of the other participants brought it up to me on Thursday night, and I have been turning over both conversations in my head in an attempt to sort myself out on a variety of issues that have been swirling around in my head this quarter.

The main takeaway for me was a reminder to be careful when talking about race-related anything with white people, especially if I'm the only minority in the conversation. That's a position with a lot of stress and pressure attached to it (and that's unsurprising, as stress and pressure have the same units) because--well, if you're part of any minority group, racial or otherwise, you know: if you're surrounded by the majority, you don't get the luxury of being an individual. You are speaking for *the collective*.

Be aware, too, of how the stress affects you. You're probably a better person than me; when I am in a position like that, unless I absolutely trust all the people involved (and I didn't, and more on that in a moment), I don't feel safe. Vulnerable + safe = openness and deep communication. Vulnerable + unsafe = aggression. All the aggression.

I've heard and am sympathetic to arguments condemning the practice of tone-policing. Certainly injustice merits anger. But the first philosophy to touch me was Stoicism and I got it into my head somehow or another that crying is weak, that emotions are weak. It's something to unlearn, certainly, but feigning a thick skin and an imperturbable nature might help with discussions conducted "out of house." The people with whom I was speaking were all allies--even if they didn't make me feel as though they were, I know that at their core they are in favor of racial equality--and I should be able to have a discussion with them.

Unfortunately the main other participant was an intellectual devil's-advocate-playing white boy. We actually are friends, but one of the traits for which I have the least tolerance is glibness. That glibness is universally applied, but when done so towards an issue that he could plausibly not care about, the effect is to trivialize. That could be an effective rhetorical device--ironic trivialization--but my patience for white people ironically saying racist things is zero.

Am I being oversensitive? Is my friend being undersensitive? We both furnished half an apology to one another for our conduct. What I apologized for: giving no benefit of the doubt and therefore jumping straight to aggression. What he apologized for: using a method of conversation that he knew was inflammatory when doing so not only did not add to the conversation but in fact made it more difficult for other participants (i.e. me) to carry it on.

Maybe we'll take another shot at it after break.

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There are some white people that I can talk to about race comfortably, and there are some--like my glib friend--for whom the task is more difficult. Girls are easier to talk to than boys, in my experience. But I did have a very productive conversation about race with no less than two straight cis white male friends in the spring, and in that conversation I felt safe enough that I started crying in the middle of it. It was exhausting, yes, but very worth it.

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To go on another track--my aggression. Apparently it wasn't noticeable to anyone but me and my roommate, so I'm not letting Marcus down entirely. But it came on very quickly and very strongly and while my friends weren't being particularly fantastic allies, for a few minutes there I actually saw them as enemies, which is wrong.

I'm concerned because I've been feeling a lot more aggressive this quarter than previously, and although this is not the first sophomore year in which that has been the case (2011-2012 me had a lot of anger) I am concerned because this is also the quarter in which I am growing more into my nonbinary gender identity--which, for someone raised as a girl, means becoming more masculine. Coincidence? I wish I could say so.

I suppose the theme of this post is allyship, because my gender identity moves me into an ally position on the feminist issues that are specifically upholding femininity || feminine/female-identifying people.* And I want to be supportive, want to do no harm, present no threat, etc.

*Yeah, I and other less-feminine people do benefit from these issues, but that's not the point. We're not the point in these cases.

But I wonder sometimes if the very act of disowning my female-ness and femininity plays into misogyny. I used to be very proud to be a girl in engineering--psych, I'm not actually a girl. What does that say? I used to be a tomboy who would look down on girly things, like pink and ruffles and princesses that weren't dragons, and that came out of internalized misogyny. What I'm doing now--getting sweaters from the men's section, speaking in a deeper voice, loathing my female body (validating my dysphoria instead of brushing it off)--does not come from that core of misogyny, but the actions are the same.

And if I'm getting more aggressive at the same time that I'm getting more masculine, what message does that send about what masculinity is?

I think there is another way, and I thought about it a lot in a previous post, but I also wrote that previous post before going back to school and being in contact with a lot of people and having to interact with a lot of people who either know or do not know my gender identity. The best laid plans...

I revert to a slightly higher voice and slightly more feminine mannerisms when around certain girls. This is kind of problematic, because I think the reason behind it is because I know that a lot of girls have been hurt by males, so I want to avoid giving any threatening vibes. Is this coddling, is this misogyny masked as chivalry? I don't know. I'm somewhat harsher and more bro-like to men who are friendly acquaintances, which is an improvement on being the shy girl. I don't know many other nonbinary people but I trust them implicitly.

The same questions again. What does a good ally do? Who can you trust? How does what you say and what you do change depending on with whom you interact? Minorities--how can we engage in productive conversations on race with white people? Transmasculine people--how can we do justice to feminism and our identities simultaneously?

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