Sunday, 27 July 2014

Giving Too Many Shits, Losing Friends, and Finding Community

I am loathe to admit this, but when I took my first (and only) course specifically on gender, I told my professor that I didn't like the word "feminism" because I felt like fighting for equality should be about equality "for everyone" and "feminism excludes the men".

I know. It's gross. I've come a long way since then and I have admitted that to very few people because it's really embarrassing (although now I've admitted it to the entire Internet, so there's a weight off my chest). By the time I graduated from University, I felt very differently, and I'm glad I eventually experienced a reality check and got my head out of my ass.

I think differently now than I used to. I talk differently. Where I used to engage with the world with a lot of internalized misogyny, I now try to be hyper-aware of what I'm saying and how I'm saying it. I call other people out. I apologize when I catch myself doing something shitty and oppressive. I try to educate my other white, cis, able-bodied friends. I try to use my positions of privilege (white, cis, able-bodied, educated, conventionally attractive) to support people who are oppressed and my positions of oppression (woman, bisexual, poor, depression) to become as visible as possible while fighting for positive change. I try to check any sort of saviour complex and instead try to be a truly supportive ally. I try to teach others how to do the same.

I'm not always good at it. When I fail, I try to apologize and do better the next time. I am constantly trying to be critical and aware and anti-oppressive. It's exhausting to have to constantly check yourself but being able to "take a break" from it is a privilege that oppressed people don't get. People of Colour do not get to take a break from experiencing racism, women don't get to take a break from experiencing sexism, etc. So I try not to take breaks from the stuff I have the privilege to be able to. When I do check out because my depression or other emotional concerns are getting triggered, I try to be as cognizant as possible of the fact that I am doing so.

What I'm trying to get at is that the girl who started university in 2006 is a very different person from the woman who graduated in 2012 and sits before this screen now, in 2014. I honestly feel like if I didn't act this way and think this way, that if I did not do everything in my power as a white, cis person to try to make a positive difference, that it would make me a shitty person. Different people have different levels of ability, physically and emotionally, and I try not to judge other people because I don't know what they're dealing with and what emotional and mental reserves they have at their disposal, but for me: I can, for the most part, handle being constantly vigilant. It makes me tired, but that's nothing compared to what people experiencing other and multiple oppressions are made to feel. Just feeling tired is a privilege if that's the extent of it.

This shift in thinking has, not surprisingly, resulted in a shift in how I engage with my friends and family. I don't let things slide anymore. I don't avoid "rocking the boat". I call people out and if they don't change I delete them from my social media and disconnect them from my life - this has included family, co-workers, and friends.

The most significant example of this in my life involves my childhood best friend. We have known each other since we were eleven. We shared everything. She was one of the first people I told when I was thirteen about being bisexual. We invented our own language together. We spent countless nights eating too much candy and writing really cracked fanfiction. When I moved to Nova Scotia, we corresponded with ridiculous letters and packages, and then after I started at Dalhousie University, she moved to Halifax to attend Dal as well. She was my best friend. I trusted her more than anybody else in the world. I knew that she would always be by my side, supporting me, and that I would support her for as long as I lived.

But I was changing. And she wasn't. A little over a year ago she started to distance herself from me, but I didn't really notice because she'd always been introverted and she was still - usually - answering my texts. But then she stopped answering my texts. So I finally called her on it, and she told me that she didn't like being around me anymore because all I did was "talk about LGBTQ feminist propaganda" - and also I was too dramatic.

My politics, my fight to educate and bring awareness to things like the fact that as a bisexual woman, I am more likely to be raped, to experience domestic abuse, is propaganda to her. She didn't like that I would correct her when she would repeat erroneous statistics, or call her out on a racist or misogynistic statement or joke. And she didn't like that I had turned to her for emotional support when the love of my life abandoned me in the middle of my honours thesis year and I plummeted into a deep depression - because, you know, drama. We haven't spoken since.

I am fully aware that this woman, my best friend of fourteen years (that is longer than my parents' marriage), acted incredibly selfishly, and that I didn't really do anything wrong - being anti-oppressive is never wrong, despite how people will make you feel. Maybe I could have found more tactful ways to broach these subjects with her, but I'm honestly over tone policing, especially after an issue has been brought to someone's attention multiple times. Maybe she could have acted like an adult and told me that I was making her uncomfortable, rather than subtly cutting off contact with me, hoping I wouldn't notice and (of course) call her on it. But even if I'd been "nicer" about telling her she was saying racist things, even if she had sat me down and said "it bugs me when you tell me I'm saying racist things, can you maybe not," it probably would have ended the same way, because I'm not the kind of person anymore who allows racism or sexism or whatever just happen without being vocal about how it has to stop.

My intention in sharing this is not to ask for cookies for being such a great anti-oppressive person, or for sympathy, or whatever. I'm not trying to get a pat on the back. I want to share this because I want people who feel the need to try harder, damnit to make this place better, more liveable, less hateful, to be aware that they're going to lose people, and that they're not alone in that. That it hurts and will make you angry, but that if people literally unfriend you in real life, you're probably doing something right.

Because it's really easy as a member of an oppressing group to be willfully ignorant, and it's really uncomfortable to be told you're behaving in an oppressive way. When you are basically telling your friends "you're being a racist/sexist/whateverist when you say that or tell that joke" you are telling them something they really don't want to hear because it interrupts their happy bubble of "I'm not a bad person because I don't actively hate Others".

If they're good people, they're going to feel bad about it and will try to change, and they will eventually thank you or be thankful to you for helping them grow and be better people. If they're shitty people, they will get mad at you for pointing out their faults, and they will tell you to stop spewing your propaganda at them. You're honestly better off without them. I'm better off without her.

It's hard, when you give too many shits. You lose friends. You lose family. But it's also amazing to find out who your real friends are. In the end, I didn't really lose a friend, despite the fourteen year relationship that led me to believe otherwise. Because had she been a friend, she would have supported my struggle as a bisexual woman and my need as as a white person to not be complicit in the oppression of people of colour, etc. She would have understood that I didn't expect any more from her than I expected from myself when I called her out on racist and misogynistic comments and behaviours.

What I found instead were friends who, only knowing me for a year, thanked me for teaching them about things like internalized misogyny, and how to recognize when they maybe needed to change how they said some things or thought about other things. I found a community of people who expected ongoing growth and positive change, rather than easily falling into a comfortable routine that doesn't challenge their privilege and ideas. What I found was actual friends: good people who want to be better people tomorrow than they are today. Who are better people today than they were yesterday, because they try harder, damnit.

It's amazing. These good people, these real friends, are the community that is required to produce more positive change. Surrounding yourself with people who care is the first step to being able to effect change, because they will support your efforts, laud your triumphs, and push you to be better. They are the safety net that will allow you to change the world, just as you are part of each of their safety nets. That is what community is, and having community is the only way to successfully change things for the better - doing it alone is exhausting and it will destroy you.

But the only way to do it is to cut the chaff. My BFF of fourteen years was chaff. The person who tells you that all you ever talk about is left-wing propaganda is also chaff. You don't find that out until you start giving too many shits, but when you do, you will find out quickly. It sucks, and it feels like a betrayal every time. But when you see the people still standing behind you, respecting your attempt to be a better human - respecting YOU - it is the most amazing feeling.

It is community and love and that is the only way we're ever going to be better tomorrow than we are today.

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