Standing Up

Warning: This post contains political content of a sexual nature. If you’re curious about my views on the politics of gender issues, patriarchy, the system, sex, and all sorts of other things connected to the above, then you’re in the right place. If you are likely to be upset or disturbed either by finding out my views or by finding out that I have them, I suggest you skip this one. I won’t be offended. Honest.

Warning number 2: This is a pretty long post. If you happen to be reading it on a teeny-tiny screen and your eyes are sensitive, you might want to leave it for a little later. Also, if this is the last thing you were planning to read before going to work/grabbing a cup of coffee/changing over the laundry or whatever, you might want to do that first. I’ll still be here when you get back.

What is that thing they keep saying, it’s not paranoia if it’s true? In the absence of sufficient empirical evidence as to whether or not it’s true, I’m just going with my gut. And my gut doesn’t like coincidences. Coincidences like how Firefox crashed while I was reading this and this.

Now it’s highly unlikely that this actually has anything to do with any sort of conspiracy, especially because as soon as Firefox rebooted itself, it brought me back to the same pages. But just for that moment, sitting in what otherwise might be described as a holiday paradise (except for the culturally entrenched racism, sexism, and homophobia that might make Mr. Bad Date blush) I panicked. I thought, “What are the consequences of my political and social views going to be?” “Is that contract I was offered going to be retracted if they find out that I’m not a racist, sexist, homophobe?”

Then I realized just how screwed up this is. Not the bit about being concerned about the consequences, social, political, monetary, or otherwise, of being myself, I’ve been worrying about that since primary school when I wondered if it was okay that I ate snow. It plays out in most of my daily life, and the only time I’m really free of it is when I ignore or forget about one or another of my identifiers that isn’t in vogue with my current surroundings or companions. I’m used to it.

The bit that’s screwed up is that I’m concerned about the social, political, and monetary ramifications of putting my money, not where my mouth is, but where, if you believe the rhetoric, where everyone’s mouth is, or is supposed to be. From the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (emphasis mine):

Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

I’m going to ignore, for the moment, my location when I originally wrote this, mostly because it’s a whole other kettle of fish, secondarily because I can’t adequately read the language in which the laws of the land are written in order to use them as an example.

But back at the ranch, officially, according to arguably the most powerful laws of the land, the opinions I hold are meant to be the rule, not the exception. I am supposed to be paid exactly the same wage as a male co-worker, and the onus is supposed to be on the employer to make sure that’s what’s happening. My religious or spiritual beliefs are supposed to be irrelevant to my treatment under the law.

I guess the salient point of all the above statements is “supposed to be”. I’m fully, sometimes acutely aware that the way that things are supposed to be is not always the way they are. We’re supposedly getting more tolerant, more globally conscious, more open-minded, more of all kinds of things that I generally think are good. If you believe the rhetoric, we’re done, we’ve won. For the most part, it’s over, the world has changed for the better, and people like me, we’re just flogging a dead horse, because we already have equal treatment before and under the law. There are a lot of people who think this, I’m sure if you asked a fellow I was speaking to earlier this year, he would’ve said so. In the last sentence he spoke to me, he advised me to be cautious while I was in Italy because there are an awful lot of (insert ethnic slur here)s there. I don’t even remember which slur it was. Which slur it was doesn’t really make a difference. A lot was wrong with that exchange. Part of it was my fault. Whether out of shame, fear, or sheer shock, I couldn’t say a blessed thing except “Thanks for your concern”.

That little smile-and-nod number I’m frequently guilty of is one of my biggest challenges. I don’t use the word guilty by mistake or coincidence. Every time I’m smiling and nodding, no matter how loud I’m thinking the lyrics to Lily Allen’s “Thank You Very Much”, I’m contributing to the problem. By not letting him know that what he’s saying is not, actually, okay with me, I’m letting him believe that it is. By letting him believe that it’s okay with me, I’m letting him believe that it’s okay in general, and it’s not.

I’m aware that it’s not my individual solitary job to change the mind of everyone I meet. That would be somewhere between impossible and merely extremely difficult. Not the only reason, by any stretch, but certainly one reason for bigoted behaviour and statements has to do with the identification of certain groups as other, or apart from oneself. I don’t fit the stereotypes of a lot of the things I am. I camouflage. I don’t have the word “resist” tattooed on a visible place on my body. I no longer have blue hair. I don’t necessarily look like one of “them”. Evidently, this man didn’t immediately identify me as one of “them”, based on my appearance, and I did nothing to change his mind.

I have a feeling that, from a word choice standpoint, bigot is a lot like terrorist. I doubt anyone would identify themself as either. I doubt that this man I was talking to thinks he’s a bigot. That doesn’t make him not a bigot, that just makes him a bigot who doesn’t realize he is.

I find myself in this situation more often than I’m comfortable with. Someone in a real or perceived position of power over me (socially, politically, emotionally, economically, etc.) says something that I wish they hadn’t. It doesn’t particularly matter whether the statement comes out of malice, ignorance, or any other of the dozens of motivations that make people do the things they do. For whatever combination of shame, fear, or laziness (“I don’t have the energy to get into this right now”) I can’t say or do a blessed thing. The best I’ve come up with is walking out of the room, quickly. Sometimes I get a funny look on my face, lips pressed together and cheeks flushing, an expression I’ve seen more than once on my granny’s face. But in terms of actual action, nada.

In the grand scheme of things, I’m pretty lucky. I’m not directly under the thumb of an abusive individual or institution which will actively engage in punitive acts of one sort or another against me because of what I think or believe. I may be told I’m going to hell for supporting LGBTQA rights and causes, but I don’t believe it. I may be told I’m naive, fighting a losing battle, or fighting a battle that’s already been won when I’m campaigning to end violence against women, but there isn’t someone at home who’s going to smack me around for it. In most cases the worst thing that’s going to happen to me is that whoever I’m talking to is going to find out that I’m one of “them”, whoever the other in question happens to be in that moment. And that petrifies me. But I’m lucky, I have the power to hide my “other”. A lot of people don’t.

So how do I scrape up the courage to stand up and be counted?

P.S. Fun fact, as I was deciding which tags to stick on this post, I noticed that the recommendations WordPress supplied, in addition to “Politics” “Lily Allen” and “Bigotry” also included “Rick Santorum”, “Piers Morgan” and “Wayne Simmons”.

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