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Saturday, 26 April 2014

Advocacy: am I doing it wrong?

Chances to pick their brains gone, I'll have to write this without help and based on nothing other than wild speculation and what conclusions I've managed to reach so far. Take it with a grain of salt. Not a heaping pile of it, though, I don't think I'm being unreasonable.

Onwards, then.

I've noticed that there are significantly fewer people in the pride meetings than there are in the club. Significantly fewer people in the club than there are LGBT+ people on campus, and that is hopefully significantly fewer than LGBT+ friendly people. Why, then, are they so few?

It comes down to a two things, mostly. The first is passion for the cause and everything LGBT+ related, and the second is the need for some sense of belonging somewhere that is not being met otherwise. That's how it comes to be that the transgender and genderqueer students have a different group and they don't join pride. It's not to say there are none of them in pride, but they have a group of their own because they somehow don't feel pride caters to their needs specifically enough and they thus don't quite belong. 

Question: Is this an issue?

I'd say it is, because you don't get a lot of participation anywhere and if you're trying to help raise awareness for a cause or get anything done it's made increasingly hard the fewer people there are and the less enthusiastic they are about helping out. 

Question: How do you solve this issue?

I don't actually know. I started writing this post as a means to try and figure something out, though. 

Why did I join pride in the first place?

To be honest, I'm not too sure. It's not the only cause I believe in (I also believe in protecting animals, for example, and saving the planet, but you won't see me attending meetings or doing anything much about it besides writing about it here and now). It's my pet cause, if you will. And that probably makes it sound bad, but I have a point: I can't think of a reason why I'm passionate about this one and not others. It's not just because I think it's a good cause, it's not just because I think it's a worthy cause, it's not even a cause that is my own. It wasn't when I first joined, at any rate, and the label I use on myself changes nothing. I couldn't tell you why I'm so drawn to the LGBT+ community. I couldn't explain why I have developed an anti-prejudice to deem them better or somehow nicer than the average cisgendered straight person. There are other underdogs I'm not nearly as sympathetic towards. There are other minorities I've never particularly cared for. They are not even particularly fascinating. Not in general, at any rate. They just are to me

Talking about it with NGBB, I found a better explanation: I wanted ally visibility. I'll build on this later.

Why didn't I join earlier? On my first try, I felt weird. Out of place. Like I didn't quite belong. Why did I join later? The promise of a drag show was too tempting, even after I almost talked myself out of attending it. What compelled me to talk to the person in charge and ask to meet with them? I won't lie and say I just wanted another extra-curricular activity for my spare time, or that it was just another excuse to be out of the house. Something in me saw the amateur nature of it, saw the opportunity for more to be done (that's how it started when I first saw the wall of hate) and I guess I took myself up on it. I wanted to make a difference.

I can't say that a difference has been made, but I'd like to think I've made myself at least a little bit useful. Which is not remarkably hard given how disorganised and vastly unprepared people seem in the group. If they are amazed by how prepared I am for different situations, what does that tell you about them if you know me? They are mostly young and a bit too prone to drama. They don't have the best communication skills. They can't quite seem to agree on what to do or how to do it. And I want to be a part of that mess, even though I don't know any better. That's the point of the post, partly: I want to know better. 

Word is going around that new people show up for a single meeting and never bother showing their faces again. Some of the more consistent members only go to make friends and stop attending events when they feel they have them. Among the reasons mentioned to stop going to pride meetings is the drama and chaos. Some thought the meetings were boring because they were educational. I'm not sure they can somehow not be. One of the club's mission statements must be to educate others. I don't think it is possible to be educated and think stupid thoughts of the LGBT+ community. No sexologist worth their salt will say that homosexuality is an aberration, no decent psychiatrist will say transgender people have a disorder, no worthy doctor will say it is wrong to be polyamorous. Education grants you the ability to see these things in shades "different" rather than "better/worse." 

And this is not just for allies in the majorities, it's for everyone because they're a collection of minorities and it has been pointed out before that being gay doesn't make you better equipped to understand the issues of being trans any more than being black equips you to understand the issues of being Indian. There has been some talk, lately, about the right to be annoyed (or angered, even) by questions which are actually considered rude. 

"How do you have sex?" 

"What do your genitals look like?" 

One side argues human decency will keep you from being so nosy. Another offers this is just curiosity and such questions are not necessarily ill-intended. It doesn't change the fact that such questions do, indeed, get asked and there is a choice between answering them or not and I lean towards answering them. For one, the more these questions are answered the less they will be asked, but there's more to it: you can answer them and encourage other, better, questions. As for how to answer them, I can't think of a better way to do it than to answer the questions before they are asked, like good teachers often do. And this is where advocacy comes in. It's not enough to educate the few people who show up for meetings. A point should be made out of reaching as many people as possible, whether by going out to them or making the meetings worthwhile. 

The problem with education is that, no matter how useful it is, it is looked down upon by the general public and considered invariably boring. Who wants to learn things anymore? It would seem that the answer to that is "those who know they need to learn," and that knowledge is driven by emotional needs which brings me back to the issue of passion and passion for knowledge. I have a passion for this. That much is clear. What about the others?

Who are the other people in pride?

For the most part (if not entirely), misfits. Anime geeks, magic cards players, cosplayers, videogame obsessed geeks, meme experts, people who self-harm, people with social anxiety, people who romanticise the life of a librarian, people who have dealt with depression and other mental illnesses, people who learned Latin during high school for fun, people with substance abuse problems, a lot of psychology majors. I'm not naming names and I'm not pointing fingers or judging. I'm just remarking these behaviours are not exactly usual and it makes it quite rare to match minorities like that. These are the minorities in the minorities. They fit together in pride because they most likely don't fit in many other places and that's why it makes sense some of them left pride as soon as they made friends. I know other LGBT+ and friendly people from my classes who are not in pride and I have to imagine it's because they're not quite so ill-adapted to socialising. It's fair enough, and that's maybe why the idea of having a room on campus dedicated solely to LGBT+ people, events and issues is a good idea: to welcome such people. I don't know if pride should try to invite others, though.

See? Now I'm questioning even the original premise. Maybe pride should stay this small. Except it shouldn't because it's not going to make a very big difference if it stays this way. And I finally think I know why I want pride to make a difference. It's a lousy analogy, but it comes down to passion again. Pride now (and always) should make a difference so future members don't have to. Pride needs to not to be so... alone. It's not enough with reaching out to other LGBT+ organisations in the city because chances are they're about as small and have a similarly limited outreach. The true challenge lies in reaching out. Because in an ideal world LGBT+ people shouldn't have to come out or answer uncomfortable questions or be observed, poked and prodded like aliens. They should be considered normal, much like a black person in Norway. It's not polite to stare and wonder about all the ways they are different because they are, too, essentially every bit the same as everyone else: human. What do you care how unusual it is to see a black person in Norway? I assure you it's not as rare as you might think it is right now. They speak Norwegian just like everyone else. They are no better or worse adapted to the cold and they need the same things (food, water, a roof to live under) we all do. It would be impertinent to wonder if their skin colour won't change due to the low sunlight exposure, if they feel differently about the country from others or prefer different foods. Why would you assume any of those things? Well, it's sort of where I'm going with this. If pride had more "normal" people, it would have more "normal" people. Sorry for the tautology. 

The end goal of any LGBT+ cause is to not need the labels or names. We shouldn't be talking about whether or not a marriage is same-sex or not. We should be talking about whether or not it's a happy marriage. We shouldn't care about whether a given person was born with one set of genitals or the other. We should care about whether that person gets proper care when they go to the doctor. We shouldn't worry about who other people want to be intimate with. That's just manners. 

This erasure of labels is not to erase the things themselves but rather the need for the labels. Remember in 100 Years of Solitude when everyone forgot the names for things and they had to be written down on them? What I'm proposing here is that every single person gets only one name written on them: "human." 

The problem with this, of course, is that the label, other than human, some people choose to affix to themselves somehow defines them. You can be a mathematician first and a woman on the side. You can be a father first and a physicist on the side. You can be queer and a geek on the side. 

The LGBT+ community has a problem with visibility. While being visible and loud is a way of saying "we're here and we're staying and you will have to live with it" it's also a way of saying "we're different, but we want to be treated as equals." Visibility is important and visibility awards like Lana Wachowski's are important because it's one way to say that they can be awesome too and it's not in spite of themselves but because they're much like everyone else. When the LGBT+ community is victim to the atrocities it is victim to, visibility is humanising. And yet to stand out is counterproductive because to wish for equality requires this not to matter. Women who want to be treated as equal to men should not expect pointless chivalry. Chivalry is a type of special treatment and when you ask for equality you give up special treatments of any kind. So it is that bold visibility isn't quite fair to ask for, but I am not sure how to reconcile the two other than by pointing out everyone should be entitled to others showing good manners.

Perhaps the difference between women and men is not the most appropriate analogy. Let me switch to the difference between a person with a disability and a person without it. The person with a disability strives to be treated as just a person and asks for reasonable accommodations on behalf of others so that their particular challenges can be overcome in order to give them equal standing among their peers. In polite societies, you should not stare at a person with a disability nor somehow imply they are worth any less than the rest of us. You must, however, acknowledge the fact that they are different and require adaptations to everyday life not everyone considers. That is how it comes to be that they have to request reasonable accommodations. And that's what they are: reasonable

Accommodations for people with disabilities don't take away any of the ease other people have living their lives. Allowing for a clause in whatever book needs it to make same-sex marriages or polyamorous marriages legal and valid in the eyes of the law doesn't take away from the marriages that already exist. When you're told not to stare at someone with a scar, a limp or a missing limb you're just being told to treat them like you would everyone else. That's because they are people first and happen to be different in some ways second. We overlook the differences by making sure they can do everything everyone else around them can, albeit with some modifications. And that's reasonable. 

If you are friends with a person with a disability, will it be assumed that you have one too? No. Then why should anyone label you "gay by association" by wanting to hang out with the LGBT+ crowd? To the true allies (and yes, I'm calling the rest of you cowards) this is not an obstacle. Because to be called a lesbian is not an insult and to be assumed to be asexual is not offensive. If you are LGBT+ friendly, you chould see the logic in this (typo made accidentally on purpose). When mum worried others would think I'm gay I answered with "that's not actually a bad thing." It would be no worse than people assuming I am from Australia. Incorrect, perhaps, but easy enough to clear. Too bad if they like my actual country of citizenship less than Australia, but neither of the two is inherently bad, I'd be ashamed of neither and if you think differently that's your problem, not mine. I didn't choose where to be born, you know. 

Will I go there? YES. No one chooses who they love, how to show their love, or who they feel more comfortable being. You can decide whether or not to act on wanting to cut your hair or ask a person on a date, but you can't decide to feel more masculine or have a crush on someone. Don't you dare, overzealous religious people, tell me that LGBT+ people can always choose the path that will lead to heaven if they just follow arbitrary rules and live unhappily ever after for the benefit of fucking no one. I mean that literally, too. 

I won't stop there, though. Allies can choose whether or not to do a damned thing. Bad allies choose not to for a number of reasons: afraid to be labelled gay by association, afraid of confrontation, afraid to be disliked by people who disagree. You know what? If you do the right thing and other people have a problem with it, guess whose problem it is? Hint: it's theirs. We want to normalise LGBT+ people so they don't need to live by their labels. It should be about telling people you're in love, not coming out. It should be about making sure people who have children are good parents, not making sure they have a binary set "so they don't miss out on anything." We get there by refusing to use words incorrectly and assign derogatory meanings to simple descriptions. We get there by acknowledging that good people are good people regardless of what they look like or who they love or what they do in private. We get there by calling out stupidity and educating it out of existence (or, failing that, into a small, dark corner where it can do no harm). Realising you don't identify with your designated body at birth should not be a traumatic experience where you have to fear for your well being and what others will think or how on Earth you will cover the medical costs to be more like the person you want to be. Realising you like someone (or several ones) shouldn't bring more trouble than acting a bit silly around them should. Realising you don't quite fit any particular group of people is fine: you make a very good you.

Making all of those changes invariably involves politics. I hate it, I really do. But it's a necessary evil and it requires a majority of people to agree with you. You get them to agree with you through education and you get them to learn by making learning fun and easy. A good teacher will make you feel smart while a bad one will make you feel stupid. We don't tell them they're being stupid even though they are. We show them how to be less stupid and give them the benefit of thinking they'll get there. We don't invite them to see sadness and victims but invite them to be a part of the change for the better so there are fewer victims (and hopefully none) in the future. We don't let them distance themselves hoping the problems will go away, we ask them to be friends and be a part of the solutions. I'm joining as a friend, then, and an ally to all such battles. 

This is starting to get speechy. I think I've said all I had to say here. I'll have more to say if I have the courage to speak out in front of the pride officers tomorrow. 

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