I Am Not Your 101: Sharing and Privacy

I had this experience recently.

I’m at a pub after a long week, (third) pint in hand, and a friend asks me to explain bi erasure to her. Right then and there. What is it? What does it mean? How is it a thing?

I ask her if we can’t please talk about this another time, but she insists- after all, I run a nationwide bi+ network and blog about this stuff all the time, don’t I? I ask her again if we can talk about this later, because I’m tired after my week and just want to kick back with a few beers and relax. She keeps insisting. Eventually I make my excuses, saying that I’ll pop to the bar for a second. By the time I get back she’s deep in another conversation. Phew.

A week or so before that: An acquaintance and me were at a party. Out of nowhere, they start asking me what felt like overly personal questions- why am I single? What about my orientation? What percent was I attracted to men and what to women? What percent was it physical and how much emotional?

I answered that this was none of his business, that besides, it wasn’t like that, and that I wasn’t going to answer and could he please stop. Of course, he went on. Where else is he supposed to find out about this stuff? It’s not like there’s any other bi people in the room.

I repeated that this was making me feel incredibly awkward and self conscious and could he please stop? His answer was that I write about this stuff on the internet, so I should be fine with talking about it at any time. Luckily at that moment a friend of mine (who is bi) was on her way through the kitchen and told him to knock it off. It worked. I excused myself for another room.

These things happen all the time. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

As a society, we have an idea about people who are partially visible to the public eye. We figure that if you’ve chosen to share something publicly, you’re fair game. If people can read or listen to or see you in one context, it feels, they should be able to demand access anytime, anywhere. In my case it’s at a very minor level- in a way I’m extremely lucky that my platform is a relatively modest one and I’m well aware that there are far worse things in life than being badgered by acquaintances and friends at parties. However, the interminable harassment experienced by people (particularly women, particularly POC, particularly queer) more widely known than I is a constant, nagging worry in the back of my mind. I can’t help but connect the two and think about how, if this weighs on my mind, I would handle something more severe.

I’ll bet that some of you reading this are thinking something along the lines of “if she can’t stand the heat, why the hell won’t she get out of the kitchen?”. But that doesn’t take away the fact that being open about my queer orientation is not a licence to demand information about my personal life. And blogging- or other kinds of sharing online- is not an abdication of a person’s right to privacy and to choose what conversations they do and do not have. Sharing things in one context does not imply blanket consent to share other things, or even the same things, in different spaces, with whoever asks. There are things that I’ll share with anyone who asks. There are things that I’ll share online and would be happy to have conversations about. There are things that I’ll talk about in one context but not another. This is true of all of us.

And another point for those of you who would ask that: There are people in this world who have a thick enough skin to stand constant harassment. And there are people in this world with interesting things to say. There is an overlap, of course, but the Venn diagram of these two groups is nothing like a circle. By demanding that those of us who speak publicly give up our privacy and our right to be treated decently, you create a space where it is the loudest and most brash, not the most insightful and interesting, who get to speak.

If someone speaks or writes in public, of course they should be subject to response and criticism. If someone writes or speaks about a topic, of course there are spaces to ask them more. But whatever we share, don’t we have the right to be spoken to and about with some basic respect? And shouldn’t we get to shut down our laptops, sign out of our accounts and pour ourselves a mug of whateveryourehaving at the end of the week?

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I Am Not Your 101: Sharing and Privacy
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17 thoughts on “I Am Not Your 101: Sharing and Privacy

  1. 1

    Isn’t this kind of an old problem with a new twist? People used to corner doctors or veterinarians and rattle off symptoms and complaints looking for that free diagnosis. I don’t mean to invalidate or dismiss your very legit concerns and objections; but it seems that there have always been a number of people who are unable or unwilling to respect a boundary.

    1. 1.1

      Oh, I wouldn’t want to imply for an instant that disrespecting of boundaries is something that only certain groups of people have to deal with! You’re absolutely right- and from conversations with doctors I know, I’m pretty sure that looking for a free consult is by no means a thing of the past.

      I do see one difference though, and I think it’s an important one. When y ours a doctor or a vet, the thing that you’re going to asked about is something outside yourself. It’s expertise in a fairly neutral area. I think that’s different from being asked to explain yourself and aspects of your personal life and oppressions you have to deal with at any time.

  2. 2

    As someone who tries to understand the experiences of other people and just generally wants to make the world a better place for everyone, but coming from an extremely privileged background, it’s really very useful to be able to read articles by some incredibly wonderful people who take the time and energy to explain these kinds of things to people like me. From that point of view I can understand wanting to ask questions of these people at every opportunity. You yourself have been amazing and patient in taking the time to answer questions that I’ve had in the past. That being said, I would never dream of intruding on your personal space and time, certainly not with a question out of the blue or when it’s clear that you don’t want to talk about it and definitely not with invasive personal questions (though this is unlikely to come up as I doubt I’ll be in Ireland anytime soon). That’s not to say that you can’t have awesome discussions at the pub, I’ve had some fantastic ones over a pint of beer or two, just that you’re not entitled to anyones time.

    I think as Blueaussi mentioned, people seem to feel entitled to certain people’s time, this is especially true of certain professions and people who put themselves out there publically. Try telling people you work in IT while just enjoying a quiet beer at the pub without getting some variation of “Oh, I have a problem with my…”. I think at the end of the day we all just need to make sure we’re paying a little more attention to the people we’re trying to enguage with (I know I can get wrapped up in my own enthusiasm a lot of the time) and if it looks like they’re uncomfortable or simply uninterested, to respect that and move along.

  3. 3

    I’m fairly new to reading this blog but I admit I read it because it’s interesting. And it’s interesting because I don’t know as much about this area as I should so I compare and contrast concepts and feelings expressed here with my own. The big difference is I do this on my time, not on yours (Aoife), except for possibly comments (Hi! Umm, sorry about this). That is, I think what’s being offered.

    People jumping you offline is quite different. I don’t think more fame would be worse necessarily though. The people who bug you now are friends or friends of friends. If they act like jerks, they’re being jerks in your social circle. If I showed up and asked you questions you’d have no idea who I was and brushing me off would have less consequences. Wouldn’t necessarily be any easier the first few times but I think it might not be as awful adjusting to it as you might think. That’s just guesswork on my part though, there are people on FtB who can relate practical experience that I lack. This is more like moral support and general cheering-on. 🙂

    Maybe useful: Compare answering questions to sex in marriage? You don’t automatically get all the sex/answers you want all the time you want in any way you want? If they don’t understand that they won’t understand anything else you might say either.

    1. 3.1

      I promise that replying to a topic in a comments section is welcome! This is precisely the kind of space where I am very specifically open to talking about these things 🙂

  4. 4

    This is disrespect, pure and simple. They are acting as if what they want is more important than what you want…. extrapolate that to: they think they are more important than you. They are looking at you as a source of entertainment – like you are working for them. My suggestion is to put the onus back on them by saying, “oh, com’on! I spend too much time working on explaining this for strangers – it’s tired me out! Be a friend and tell me something interesting thats been going on with you.” Then if they keep pestering, you can just say nothing, or answer “you are unbelievable”, or (a favorite of mine), answer a question that you wished they had asked, as a complete non sequitor, without any explaination. It confuses them, then they get the point.
    “Hey, tell me your (invasive private details), woncha?” “Well, my cat did this interesting thing the other day…
    (long cat story)

    1. 4.1

      I definitely need scripts for this kind of thing! It’s when I’m blindsided by these things when it’s late and I’m tired (both incidents happened after days full of tough derby, as well as all the rest) or a little tipsy that I get gobsmacked and have no idea how to respond.

      So, yeah. Scripts that point out that this stuff is basically work for me (even if it’s work that I really enjoy) and that at that particular point we are well into Relax Time and conversations should be at the intellectual level of “Soooo, that game/movie/etc, eh?”

  5. 5

    As a cis, hetero, white, middle-aged, English speaking male I’ve been trying to educate myself on how to be a good ally.* So far placing people into the ‘person’ category before any and all other designations has been the most useful trick. It helps me avoid treating individuals as interchangeable units of some greater collective. And after all, isn’t that the point, to recognise people as people regardless of how they may be different from you?

    *An ongoing process to be sure. I’ve got a long way to go yet.

    1. 5.1

      That is definitely a damn good first step to work from! Once you pair that with not assuming ‘person’ implies ‘has the same experiences and responses to things as me’, you’re pretty much golden 🙂

      1. not assuming ‘person’ implies ‘has the same experiences and responses to things as me’,

        Oh yes, this is the tricky part isn’t it? Even once you’ve become aware of the blindness that comes from being what society considers a default human you’re going to occasionally stumble into a hole made of your own unconscious assumptions. It’s inevitable, and for that reason I’ll add two more essential ally skills to the list:

        -Knowing when to shut up and listen.

        -Knowing how to apologise.

        The first can be very hard until you get used to it. Generalising from personal experience is what our brains do. It’s a fundamental cognitive bias. The key is to believe people when they tell you about their experiences, and to recognise that moment where you think “That’s not right.” That’s the point where you have to shut the hell up and really pay attention.

        The second follows naturally once you’ve mastered the first. And to be clear: I don’t mean the straw apology that bigots gnash their teeth over: “You want me to be sorry I’m a man/white/straight!!11!!1! ect.” I mean being sorry for the actual offence. I say something like: “I’m sorry. I made an ignorant assumption.”

        I’ve been working on this for years now, and despite that I expect to be dealing with my biases and blind-spots for the rest of my life. I’m sure there’s many more and better ways to go about being a good ally, but I think hope I’m on the right track.

  6. 6

    OK, so I occasionally experience something remotely similar: I’m a bilingual English-Czech and whenever I (or someone else) brings this up I end up in a half-hour conversation about: where I grew up, why we moved here, how I learned the language, what I think about literature and culture. In my teens I used to love being the center of attention because of this, later I learned to cynically pre-prepare the entire “interview” in my head and nowadays I mostly avoid mentioning my background, only when I feel like it and the other person is interested enough I’ll go back to that script.

    But then this “thing-that-makes-me-interesting” doesn’t really affect my everyday life, my romantic relationships, like being bi/queer/nonheteronormative would, although it does in a few ways. I don’t feel that on the issue of bilingual immigrantion everyone needs to know about me to understand it. Nevertheless I also try and talk about immigrants positively and try to get people to understand the issues they may face. But about bi issues, a lot of people really could do with the 101. Like a lot of people could do with having that taught at school.

    I get that you being a “public figure” doesn’t mean your personal life is up for grabs or make you the spokesperson for bi education, but who’s going to do it? Should I (a cis, white, male) be giving people LGBT/BDSM/feminism/racism/ableism 101s? I’m sure to get so much wrong and misrepresent, but I really think it’s important.

    And whenever someone comes up to me and I’m on my (fifth) half-litre beer I’m most often bored and annoyed talking about me, but really love giving people some “equality 101”. Is that OK?

    1. 6.1

      Y’know, I think your experiences might be more similar than you let on. I lived a couple of years in Tanzania growing up, which isn’t something that people expect from me, and like you I have the whole script prepared and normally don’t mention it these days unless I feel like it and it’s relevant. I’m not an expert on East African culture and politics, I’m just some rando who went to school in DSM for a couple years.

      Of course, I’m not an immigrant in Ireland and those are definitely not my experiences. And while of course queerness and immigrant status are very different things, there’s a similarity to being tokenised and othered when people find out about them both, and if you can pass under the radar there’s the Q of whether to out yourself or not to have that conversation.

      As for your last questions: none of this is saying that I’m not happy to be a spokesperson or to educate. I educate and am a spokesperson in a bunch of ways- I write articles, give workshops, give talks and interviews, and of course do the work of organising with other parts of our community too. The great thing about lots of that stuff is that it’s freely available. You don’t have to corner me in a pub to get some 101! You can read the blog or listen to the radio podcast!

      As for giving 101s when you’re not a member of a group? I actually think that’s a really important thing to do. It’s important when you’re doing it to keep your caveats and point people at resources made by members of the group, of course. But one of the things do for groups I try to ally myself with is to give those 101s. I think it’s really useful for two reasons. First, I’m likely to be a lot less burnt out on those issues. And secondly, when people ask for 101s they often ask Qs that are unintentionally hurtful. It’s a lot easier to handle those if you’re outside the group, and if you’re lucky you can make sure that nobody from the group ever has to hear those from that particular person. Win!

      1. As for giving 101s when you’re not a member of a group? I actually think that’s a really important thing to do.

        If I may add to this? It’s also important that folks like myself, those who are at the top of the privilege heap, to speak up. People from marginalised groups are routinely denigrated, dismissed and simply ignored far more than those of us who are seen as the default majority. An obvious point to some, but one that’s all to often invisible to the privileged.

        Cis, hetero, white dudes* need to use the power of our privilege to amplify the messages that the marginalised have been speaking for years. Keeping in mind of course the sensible caution and caveats that one should have when speaking about a group that one is not a part of.

        *Speaking generally here. I’ve no idea how =8)-DX presents.

  7. 7

    Totally inappropriate behaviour: my sympathy.
    For what it’s worth, I think the more people speak up about this, the more people will realise this and the less accepted it will become in mainstream society. So well done!
    And yes, maybe store up some long and boring stories to tell 😉

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