Thursday, December 26, 2013

Suspending Well-Meaning Judgement (or Why it Feels Good to Feel Bad for Others)


 For as long as I've been dating women (which is over 22 years) I have dated or had relationships with "butches."  All of them struggled in their own way with reconciling our North American culture's dichotomy of what women and men are supposed to be like.  Some of them at some point even had moments of confusion over their gender identity.  I chose to be with women who were born women, who wanted to be women, and were masculine to their very cores.

My wife very much fits into this category.  Identity politics aside (they're overrated anyway) she is the very definition of Two Spirit and she is comfortable with it on all levels.  Yes she's had her struggles with gender & out of respect for her, I will not expand on her journey in that regard.  What I will say is that she really and truly is both female and male and is very comfortable with the body she is in.  It's part of what attracted me to her, and remains a treasured piece of our relationship.

With the increased numbers of people who are out as transgender, and as their struggles for equality have become more recognized in our society, so has the increase in people, sometimes those identified as trans but more so their very well meaning allies, who assume my wife is transgendered.  I have lost count of the times I've been asked by trans allies if she is transgender.  She encounters this assumption often.  For instance just few days ago someone randomly told her about their adult offspring who specializes in trans issues at a naturopathic clinic.  She is not transgender, has no interest in being transgender, and is beautiful just as she is.  Assuming she is trans obscures the power of her Two Spiritedness and doesn't help her to be seen or advocated for.  These allies mean well, but they don't care in a way that honors her as she is.

Acceptance is a powerful and helpful tool when we seek equality and justice for minorities.  Embracing awareness is even better.  Yet like all things, it is possible to get out of balance when it comes to working towards equity.  Respecting others means not assuming, regardless of how well meaning we may be.  Just because we know about an issue, whether first hand or as an ally, we still need to work on suspending our judgement regarding what another person is or  may need.

I see this "support on overdrive" mentality particularly with those who identify as politically progressive (I suppose this is why some get frustrated with political correctness).  While some may consider political conservatives to be judgmental towards races, classes, and sexual minorities, I would venture to say that progressive can be just as judgmental.  The difference is this type of judgement feeds the ego by letting the ally say "I'm a nice person because I see this person's difference and I actively embrace it."  The difference is the ally judges the person by believing they've encountered someone who needs to be helped and needs their help or commentary in particular.  It puts people into roles of heroes and victims and negates the individuals actual being-ness.  This sort of judgment puts the emphasis on the one judging because they tell themselves how great they are for not judging.  We all do it, so of course as I write this I remind myself not to judge too harshly other people's judging!

Here's an example: A while back while I was still on Facebook an old friend posted how badly they felt about Black people having to work at a particular establishment he visited on Martin Luther King Jr. day.  This person participated in the establishment's offerings, thanks of course to these Black folks working that day but felt bad for them all the same.  When I challenged this person to not focus on how bad he felt, but actually do something about it such as not be at the establishment that day or write a letter, I was e-confronted with people who felt a need to defend this friend.  Apparently I had attacked someone who -don't you know- helps the downtrodden, and I should therefore know my place.  It was interesting that I as a Black women, challenged a white ally, and was basically told my input didn't count.  The emphasis was on the do-gooder or the hero & how they felt, not on the actual people, their being-ness, and what they may have thought of their given situation.

Another example is when people can be shocked by a minority group disliking another minority group.  "How can these people dislike these people when they should understand since they can relate?"  is what I have heard so many times.  I no longer pull my hair out over such statements but I remember the frustration I felt at the negation of a group or person's thoughts and feelings.  Saying a racial minority should be an ally to say a sexual minority or vice versa, just because they're both minorities, again puts emphasis on being someone who "doesn't think that way" and nullifies the person(s) who may have their ideas for a variety of reasons.

We cannot know others until we become willing to embrace the fact that we will never be able to fully know others.  This can be uncomfortable but it's far more honest and demonstrates more willingness to be educated by others in terms of their identities, circumstances, history, and ancestral legacies.  What this also means is that we have to be willing to offend people, not because we assume things about them (good intentions or not) but because we don't.  We cannot please all people so if we don't know what to say or think about someone or their situation and they get upset, we can practice loving detachment and do our best to just be with them, rather than self-centeredly being for them.  Paternalism is not just about deciding how others should be, it is also about deciding who others are.  Liberals and conservatives are both guilty of this, though my liberal brethren's mask of support sometimes makes it harder to see in self reflections.

When we feel bad for others it can make us feel like we're good people.  But therein lies the first wound to heal.  The wound is that we are afraid we may not be good, so we must try to be good by doing good things and thinking good thoughts and saying good things to people who may not have it so good.  If  feminist Carol Hanisch is correct that the personal is political, then we might consider delving deeper into our relationships, especially with ourselves.  When we make an effort to ask ourselves where we feel victimized and direct healing measures towards ourselves, we feel less of a need to be selfishly good for others.  We don't need our ego's to be on display to other "good" people.  We make mistakes and learn how beautiful our seemingly uncomfortable truths are.  When we do this others are able to be with us and we with them.

"But in fact, isn't that man's very purpose on earth--to do things, change things, run things, make a better world?"
"No!"
"What is his purpose, then?"
"I don't know. Things don't have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What's the function of a galaxy? I don't know if our life has purpose and I don't see that it matters. What does matter is that we're a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass."
 From The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin
 Photo courtesy of unprofound

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