This blog was inspired by a blog by Erica on http://inchoaterica.wordpress.com entitled “because of the shame associated with vulnerability…”  I began writing a comment, which exploded into something so much more than just a comment, something which I felt I needed to discuss in full in a blog.

Reneta 2

Reneta 2 (Photo credit: Hejma) I have no idea why this picture popped up, but it had my name so I added it.

I’d have to say that I don’t know what it’s like to be under more social forms of oppression than I am.  I am very empathic, so I can put myself into another’s shoes, but it’s not the same.  I am aware of this.  By cultural labels, I am white, atheist, disabled, androgynous, queer, reasonably close to cultural expectations for appearance, woman and trans, and some of those labels aren’t so readily clear and many are the target of oppression.  While I have been the recipient of many seemingly heartfelt, “I’m sorry”, “That’s horrible”, and “What is wrong with the world” messages, I have always felt something I only over the past year, more so recently found the words to express how it felt.  Something about some of these expressions bothered me, and I realized what it was, which I am now writing about.  Most people wouldn’t know from looking at me that I am androgynous, so I am not visibly queer unless they caught me on a day it’s more apparent.  So I end up being the target of people’s cisnormative and heteronormative assertions about me, that are intrinsically not true.  They assume or mistake me for a heterosexual, and talk like heterosexist do, or that I am heteronormative at all so they make fun of androgynes, genderqueers, and just queer and homosexual people in general in my company (which I am compelled to call them on).

My disabilities also aren’t readily apparent, as head injuries tend to be, as well as while I have trouble walking I don’t even have or use a cane (though I really should as painkillers and back braces only make it worse).  For the most part my disabilities tend to only be more apparent to a physician, a long time friend or when I am having severe difficulties (which usually coincide with me being more secluded, intentionally); however, they will get worse as I get older and they already have to a degree.  I have adapted to them the best I can, and I mitigate their appearance to others “because of the shame associated with vulnerability”.  But these things aren’t supposed to be a matter of shame as we are all vulnerable, we just don’t all like to admit it, and our culture looks down on it.  Not only that, but anytime someone sees me having a “good day” they assert that I am “somehow better now”, or “cured”.  HA!!!  As if.  People don’t appreciate my disability unless I “act disabled” which is complete garbage, (not like the band Garbage, which is totally awesome).  Also people tend to “misconstrue” my neurological problems as one of “character, rather than disability”.

While I feel kind of ambivalent about it, my being trans also isn’t readily apparent to people.  So in that I end up getting to see people’s transphobia, transmisogyny, and other things cisnormativity loathes.  I am abundantly aware that racism, sexism, ableism, classism, and all these other -isms exist and are very much alive, and I am aware of both where I am and am not privileged in my life (as all should be).  But being aware of where privilege exists isn’t enough, nor is feeling ‘sorry’ for the oppressed.  The point I am working to is this… That when I talk about my experiences I share some of Erica’s sentiments to some of the responses we both get from time to time.  For me, I don’t want pity, I actually refuse it.  I am sure there are those who pity or feel sorry or sympathetic for me for being trans, or disabled (et cetera) and how I am treated because of that but I feel those sentiments are wasted.

I have also been told I was brave, but I refuse that as well.  Being who I am doesn’t mean I am brave being so… I just am.  I don’t even know if I consider standing up for myself as bravery, or just a product of being too tired of taking people’s shit to sit back and be quiet.  I don’t want to encourage those feelings in people as they get nothing accomplished, and can be shallow expressions of a persons guilt and remorse and not of genuine emotional connection with your story.  There is a certain degree to which certain forms of oppression act on us, and that is in the way that those things we are oppressed for are apparent or not apparent to others.  Race, gender, expression, disability, et cetera can be more apparent for some than for others, and there are several attributes which account for degree to which all forms of oppression work on.

An attempt at a discrimination graphic.

An attempt at a
discrimination graphic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Discrimination is everywhere, and all one needs to be its target is be ascribed to
something with people carry prejudice towards, like gender and disability.

I want for people to realize the implications of those things and feel compelled do something about it.  That is why I share my experience, and share my knowledge of the double binds created by oppression, as well as its other phenomenon.  I don’t share so that I can be the recipient of people’s sympathy, nor do I want anything from them other than to acknowledge those things in our culture. Nothing can be done about me being who I am, or anything I have been through after the fact.  I appreciate the sentiment to feel compelled to emotion by the stories of others, believe me.  But it makes more sense to think about preventing more harm, undoing the systemic oppression, and working within our each of our hearts and not reflecting too much on past harms.

Certainly they are important to the story, but that is all.  Not being visibly disabled comes with the difficulty of ableist assertions.  One of which is that you must “look visibly disabled” for it to be so.  Ableism is two-fold in that it dehumanizes all those visibly disabled and it mocks those not visibly disabled as a “hypochondriacs”, “liars”, or worse as a “retard”.  In Erica’s blog, it would seem she experiences both sides of that, both having visible and relatively invisible disabilities, and she is not the only one I am afraid.  Sometimes the guilt and remorse for living in and perhaps even sponsoring a culture which does cause inexcusable harms to others once revealed to them can lead people to act in denial, and call you a “liar”, or to other irrational emotional responses that miss the truth of the matter and do nothing to fix the problem.

The problem is that these things really do happen, and pity and denial do nothing to stop them.  There is a similar double edge to other forms of discrimination. Racism’s double edge comes in the fact that race itself causes you to be the target of that oppression, but that different people within that race are targeted differently.  There is ‘almost’ an “exemption” for being another race, so long as you “act in or look in a way ascribed to people of the majority/dominant race (which in America is White)”.  As a result racism targets people with “ethnic pride”, or visible “ethnic association” more harshly, than majority conforming  people of that race.  People who seem less like their race, and more “white” (in America) are generally treated better than those who seem more “ethnic”.  Under patriarchal oppression the same phenomenon occurs.  Women who uphold images of male power are still second class citizen‘s, they are just treated more nicely for accepting their role “like pets”, and all women who fight against, denigrate, resist or contradict those images of male power are the most discriminated against.

Being queer is the same way… Society (cissexism/heterosexism) puts up resistance to being queer, and makes limitations to the degree to which it’ll tolerate queerness, and oppresses (violently) all who present it beyond those degrees.  The kyriarchy of oppression in America is a monstrous foe to defeat because many of its tenets institutionalized and deeply engrained into the thinking of so many.  It’s why empathy and sympathy are lazy, even shallow and heartless emotions if they exist in absence of action, or in contradiction to your own actions.  For those of privilege, if you really see the travesty of people being treated as less than human for being who they are, your humanity only shines if you do something, say something, and act against them.  This doesn’t mean you have to go to Capitol Hill, or appear on Oprah.  Refusing to be silent when that is the expectation of the oppressors says more about your humanity than your capacity to feel things like empathy and sympathy, especially pity.  The things that happen to us do help shape how we view the world, but they are not who we are.  Others need to recognize this, and while showing compassion for others misfortunes is human, it’s ultimately useless if you waste that investment of emotions on shallow expressions and actions.

An androgynous Shirley Manson in the "And...

An androgynous Shirley Manson in the “Androgyny” video. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)  People who are androgynous, or who embrace their own androgyny or queerness, or anything considered gender variant, or against cultural prefaces of normality face sometimes rabid discrimination.  All one needs to be discriminated against is to be ascribed to a trait which a person feels prejudice towards, like gender expression, race, religion, color, et cetera.

I guess in that what I am saying is that I see what Erica means, and my perspective on those responses is to convict shallow sympathy, and more so pity.  Being trans, or disabled, or any other should not be considered pitiable, or wanting of sympathy nor should being any of those things be brave.  It’s the world, if anything that should be accused, pitied, or felt sympathetic for not of us for being who and what we are.  Being a good person is about seeing what is wrong in the world and doing something about it, not about feeling sorry for those who suffer in because of those wrongs.  Reneta is not just a transsexual, a queer/androgyne, a disabled veteran; Reneta is Reneta (Just as Erica is Erica) and those things just act to add to my story, and are adjectives to my character (though part of my name is only a pen name, as is, Erica is her pen name of sorts.)  Regardless of my adjectives, I am a person and whittling who I am down to any one of those things as an equivocation is marginalizing, and it is wrong.  The only part of you that should matter to other people is your humanity, not your station in life or your history lest that history is important to the safety of others regardless of whether they are comfortable with you or not (being a serial rapist/killer counts, but being gay or trans doesn’t).

We all have our own stories, and our own adjectives but I have to say that I am proud to stand with Erica and others like her against those forms of oppression we face and to bring awareness of our unique perspectives.  I think this is in some degrees the message that Erica and many others are trying to send.  It’s time the rest of the world open their ears and listened.  In my opinion, sympathy and pity should be traded for effort toward the betterment of all.  So I say to the world, if you really care, then do something about it.  I can’t stop being transsexual, and I shouldn’t have to stop being androgynous simply because someone doesn’t like it.  Neither my disabilities nor my attraction to women will never be cured though my disabilities can be managed to a point, and I am happy with my sexuality.  None us can do anything about our racial backgrounds, genders, or sexual orientation. The answer isn’t to conform, but to end oppression.  I also often see people mistake pity with sympathy and empathy, and they are very different.

So, I convict our culture (and those who uphold it and those -isms within it) of the wrongs we face, and I deeply resent being the recipient of pity, denial, and shallow or false displays of concern for being who I am.  And remember world, it’s not enough to know better, and it’s not enough to show sympathy if you don’t do better.

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