In the past week we heard a lot from people from all sides of our community regarding Dublin Pride’s decision not to allow speakers from community and activist groups after Saturday’s parade. Fortunately for everyone, Pride were able to come to an agreement with LGBTQ groups, allowing them a small amount of time to address the Pride crowds.
There’s one thing I kept on hearing last week from some people associated with Pride Committee members that I’d like to address, and that’s this: where were the community and activist groups all year? While Pride Committee members were volunteering their time to put on a festival.. where was everyone else?
Where were they? Here, of course. Everywhere.
I find it difficult to understand how members of the Pride committee could see that they gave long hours to their group, but not that everyone else is doing the same.
The vast majority of the work that goes into every LGBT community or activist group in the country is voluntary. Even organisations with paid staff rely heavily on volunteers. Throughout the country, every evening and weekend, people give long hours of their time and donate their incredible expertise to build our communities and campaign for inclusion and equality.
We all give our time.
Activist and community groups build and sustain the community that Pride celebrates. They give us a place to go for the other 50 weeks of the year. They run the support groups and helplines. They organise our regular meetups. They run the campaigns that will- oh, they will– build a society where LGBTQ people are not only equally respected under the law, but equally valued as members of our society.
Activist and community groups have been working their butts off on activism and community building. That’s what they do. They also gave Dublin Pride what they asked for- filled out their forms to be part of the parade- and no doubt assumed that in the absence of any further information, the day would continue to be organised in a similar way to how it had been for years. Dublin Prideare the people who had responsibility for letting everyone else know if something else was going on.
If they didn’t do that? They should own up. Complaining about having put in long hours to people who do the exact same thing with their own evenings and weekends? Not doing anyone any favours. Hopefully next year’s committee can learn from this year’s mistakes, take ownership of their jobs and make an event that is both a spectacular party and a call to action.
In UCD a few weeks ago, Patricia Hill Collins spoke of how the US state is one topic that she would never tackle as an activist and a critic. It is too big, too powerful, and she said that she has seen people lose themselves entirely in trying to change it. She knew she wouldn’t be able to cope. So she stays away, and does her best to support people who do try to tackle it.
I feel that way about climate change. I can deal with most of the usual -isms. I know that influencing one person at a time and making spaces for small groups of people to feel safe is worthwhile. I feel like the small difference I can make is real and rewarding. It feels okay. But climate change? It’s too big. It terrifies me in its immensity, and I feel tiny and inadequate to make even the tiniest difference. And like Patricia Hill Collins with the state, I know that if I tried to tackle it, it would eat me alive. So I stay away, and I do my best to support people who do try to tackle it.
How about you? What topics do you find easier to handle when it comes to making the world a better place, and what’s harder for you? Is there a particular topic that, for you, is just too damn big and terrifying for you to handle engaging with?
I’m an activist. I’m outspoken about my opinions and willing to argue them. I put my views out here on the internet on a regular basis, knowing that at any point anyone could see what I have to say and respond. I do it because I love to discuss, share and persuade. I love to communicate and write and find common ground amidst all of our differences. It’s interesting. It keeps me on my toes and learning every day.
I discovered something today, though.
Geoff’s Shorts posted the other day about about his support for marriage equality. He’s been getting a lot of comments and, as us bloggers are wont to do, popped a message around a few of us asking us to take a look and contribute to the conversation. Since I’m a great big badass queer activist, I figured I’d take a look.
That doesn’t happen very often. You can’t hang out around social justice bits of the internet very long without developing a thick skin. And I’d thought that when it came to homophobia, I’d calloused up a long time ago.
I hadn’t. I haven’t.
I started reading comments detailing calm, friendly arguments against marriage equality. Everyone on both sides discussing things nice and rationally. That is, as rationally as you can get when one of the arguments is inherently irrational. I made it about three or four comments in. Then I had to stop.
Maybe callouses come and go. Maybe you need to get them periodically toughened-up. Maybe it’s just that I’m a few days out of a wonderful week with Ladyfriend, feeling a bubbling kind of besotted and missing her badly. Maybe it’s hard because homophobia doesn’t just attack our selves. It attacks our deepest and most intimate relationships. It hits us right where our hearts are, right down where we make ourselves the most vulnerable. Right there in the giddy longing of crushes and sweet joy of love, where we can’t help but feel every damn thing because that’s what love is like. It’s where we are at our most tender. And that’s a wonderful thing.
It’s funny, though. When I hear yet another bishop yammering on about openness to life and fundamental disorderedness, I roll my eyes and continue on. This week or so as they’ve been claiming that people can’t marry someone of the same gender because we can’t consummate our relationships? I giggle. And then I offer to send them some handy diagrams. The WBC picketing yet again? Eh, whatever. But ordinary, thoughtful, well-spoken people detailing why they think that the love I have for some people is inherently inferior than the love I have for others? That one hits me where I live. Y’know how words can sometimes feel like a real punch? How they can stop you in your tracks, leave you dizzy and disoriented and vaguely ill? Yeah. That.
It’s funny, because feminist issues rarely hit me in the same way, although they have a similar potential to mess up my life. I can talk about reproductive rights and workplace inequality and abuse and all of it. Not always calmly, but the worst I’ll get is angry.
I guess that attacking our relationships has always been a way to get to people. Not just queers, of course. All of us. Isn’t jealousy often just a response to feeling like our relationships are threatened? And jealousy can feel overwhelming physical. Primal. Like the deep desire we often have to protect our families and the people in them. You mess with my family, you mess with me. It’s the same thing, I think.
It worries me. I want to talk about the things that are important to me. Love matters to me. I have so many conversations I’d like to have here, not just about queerness or polyness but about everything around those things- how we make relationships, what they mean to us, how we create and live them and what it means to be purposeful and considered in the kinds of relationships we have. And I know that in having those conversations I’m opening up one hell of a vulnerable place.
What do you think? Do you know what I’m getting at here? Do you feel the same, or is there an issue that gets to you in a similar way, to the extent that you have to be careful when and how you can engage with people on it? If it’s something that is close to your activist heart, how do you protect yourself?
Want to get involved in making an Irish version? Y’know you do! Pop an email over to prochoicedublin at gmail dawt com, grab a webcam and a bunch of uppity women/uterus-havers/combination-of-above and get singing, karaoke-style! Doooo iiiiiit.
We are just going to the toilet, Roseanne. We’re not there to molest kids. You’ve brought up NAMBLA, and how you fought against their inclusion under the Gay/Lesbian banner back in the day. Good. I despise NAMBLA. I’m glad you did that work and I’m thankful for it! But, I ask, why do you bring it up? Are you implying allowing trans women into women’s restrooms is the same as opening the door to child molesters, rapists and paedophiles?
That’s not quite true. You and I can care about a lot of things. Some things hit closer to home than others, but whenever I hear about something terrible or unfair I care about it. I care about manifold oppressions, sick kids, poverty, natural disasters. The person who just missed the bus on a rainy day. The people languishing unfairly in prison. The people being denied basic rights, or dealing with insidious unconscious prejudices that people don’t even know that they have. It’s all unfair. It’s all horrible. It all needs someone to do something about it.
You can’t care about everything.
Those of us of an activist or social justice bent, I think, can often get overwhelmed. We’re a bunch self-selected to notice things that are wrong with the world and to want to do something about it. We also tend to be reasonably aware of how we can do something. From writing to organising to protesting to lobbying to educating- we tend to have learned where our strengths lie and how we can use them to best effect. We learn whether we’re firebrands or diplomats, whether we prefer to work on the front lines or behind the scenes. We learn how to organise or how to work alone, how to connect and learn and push forward change.
I think that it can take us a long time to learn that we can’t care about everything.
Activism is hard work. Making meaningful change is harder. Every step forward is carved out as if through solid stone, little bit by little bit. Winning hearts, educating and changing minds on a society-wide scale can take years or decades. And most of it is always unpaid or underpaid work done in between the cracks of our lives.
It’s hard for us to learn our limits. If we know how to create change, that it won’t happen unless someone steps up, and that it needs to happen? It’s immensely difficult to step back and say no when you’re the kind of person who’s used to spending their time stepping forward. Especially when we know that the things that we do spend our time on are no more deserving than those we need to say no to. Especially when we can see the consequences of nothing or not enough being done. How real they are, how they impact people’s lives. How much hurt can be caused.
It’s something I notice even with this little blog of mine. Blogging can be an immensely engaging thing to do. For me, it’s all about communication and connection, reading and writing and sharing ideas. Learning about new issues, researching them, consolidating and sharing. And over the course of that, you find out about an awful lot of things. I can’t write about everything. Even now, when I haven’t got a job, I simply wouldn’t have the time. I wouldn’t have the energy, mental or emotional.
There’s a kind of emotional burnout that comes from taking in too many things that move you, I think. Especially when you then want to consolidate them into a post that makes sense, is decently constructed and readable. So you- I- have to pick and choose.
It seems arrogant in a way. Like somehow I could save the world with my keyboard if I only had the time. I don’t think that I can, by the way. But I do feel a lot of the time that if only I had the spoons to write just one more piece, I might be able to have enough conversations to make a little dent in things.
You can’t care about everything, though.
I once read an article- I can’t quite remember where- about how activists can sometimes run on guilt. We see our lives and how privileged we are, or we see the magnitude of what we’re up against, and we run ourselves ragged. We don’t let ourselves rest. But the thing about running on guilt is that you’re never going to run out of it. You’ll never hit the magic place where you’ve finally fixed all the things and you can rest. There’ll always be some more work that needs to be done.
I have a feeling that we might do better working from a place of love, as cheesy as it sounds. Guilt never leaves any space for self-care. Love does. If we work from love, then we can mind ourselves, find balance, devote time to the people and things that give us joy, work out what we have to spare and save our activism for that space. Working from a place of love, we can care about everything without feeling like it needs to be us fixing everything right here and now.
Because if activism is about making the world a better place, it’s no good if we don’t take care of our own lives. If we neglect our loved ones or ourselves, we’re not really making the world a better place- just the world outside. If we guilt-trip ourselves for not being able to do that little bit more, we’re making our own selves a worse place to be.
It’s hard to know that you can’t fix everything. It’s even harder to be okay with that. But I think that accepting that is the only way that it’s possible to appreciate what you really can do. To, instead of beating yourself up over what you can’t do, feel happy about the change you do make. And I think that’s important. Not so that activists can sit around feeling smug about ourselves. But so that we can allow ourselves a bit of peace. A bit of happiness. A bit of space to love.
What do you think? Do you think I’m on to something? If you do activism, how do you reconcile it all?
Oh god. Is this thing on? It is, isn’t it? After spending yesterday absolutely itching to get writing, when I woke up this morning my inspiration, shall we say, declined to get out of bed with me. Fecker is still lazing about halfway through the afternoon. So I figured that, after a morning doing all sorts of errands I’ve been not getting around to, I might as well just start without it. I figure that 90% of this lack of inspiration is the GIANT NERVES that I have around this massive project that I’ve set for myself, so if I keep on writing things it’ll be shamed into showing up. And then we can really get this show on the road.
Let’s start with something seriously introspective. I want to talk about introversion, social anxiety, how they’re not the same thing, and ask a few questions about ways in which those of us of an introverted(ish) persuasion can and do engage. Yes, I’m starting off BloggyWriMo with a post about things that make people feel anxious and awkward. This feels appropriate, since the idea of writing 50,000 words over the next 30 days makes me feel anxious and awkward and I just can’t help sharing with you lot. You can thank me later.
Introversion, Social Anxiety and Social Awkwardness, and Activism
Anathem: Heaven or Hell?
Sitting the other day in a cafe with a rather extroverted friend of mine, I tried to explain why, despite knowing it to be a messed-up way to make a society, the idea of living in an Anathem-style math is one that I daydream about more than I care to admit. For those of you who haven’t read Anathem, and without spoiling too much, it is set in a world where, if you’re going to be a nerdy academic type, you have to live in a cloister locked away from the rest of society for up to a millennium at a time. You get out for ten days every decade, century, or millenium depending on where you live and how advanced your research is. The rest of the time you live cloistered away in communities of other academic types. You own nothing but the clothes on your back, you grow your own food, you study the things you want to study.
To me it sounds heavenly. To live in a nice small community of people who I know really well? Where I get to study what I like and be around people who are full of ideas and smart as hell themselves? Where I can spend as much time as I like alone learning things? And, yes, grow my own food and not worry about possessions? And to be able to pop into town every decade or so and catch a movie with the family? It sounds amazing. Yes, yes, so it’s messed up for a society to be so scared of knowledge that they’ll lock up all the academics, nerds and smart people. Whatever. Somebody get me a freakin’ TARDIS and send me to this place. I am signing up.
ExtrovertFriend did not agree. She made the (rather good) point that this sounded a lot like an extreme ivory-tower fantasy from the most feverish of middle-class intellectual brains. While I would love to be able to disagree with this, I, well, can’t. I have that special kind of middle class-ness that means that people are nice to me at the dole office. I exude Arts grad from every pore, and the things I like and want are absolutely tied up with that privilege. ExtrovertFriend also said that she felt that the idea that I thought of of heavenly sounded entirely hellish to her. To only spend time with the same few hundred people for years on end? To hear from the outside world every decade at best? She said, in far less polite terms than I’m using, that it would drive her completely bananas. Possibly barmy.
In the conversation that followed, myself and ExtrovertFriend went on to talk about what our experiences are with introversion and extroversion, how one often gets confused with social awkwardness and anxiety, and wonder about ways in which people of a more introverted persuasion can avoid the temptation to live in an ivory tower-esque bubble while still being true to our more solitary selves.
Introversion vs awkwardness
I’m reasonably introverted. If introversion and extroversion were a spectrum, I’d be swimming around the grey area a bit closer to the solitary side. Don’t get me wrong- I love people. I have an incredible partner, fantastic chosen/birth family and friends who I love to pieces, and wonderful circles of acquaintances that I’m delighted and inspired by.
And I need time alone. A lot of time alone. Today, for example, I’m spending most of the day on my own. I have a to-do list, a house to potter about in, and errands to run. I’m writing this on the sofa in gorgeous, blessed silence broken only by the noise of trams passing every few minutes. Well, that and &^^&%& telemarketers phoning the landline constantly. As long as I have things to do, I’ll happily spend days on end with only my own company. A lot of social interaction, on the other hand- especially with people outside of my closest circles- leaves me exhausted and craving quiet. I like small groups of people or one-on-one interactions. Large social interactions- great big parties and the like- I can take in very, very small doses. ExtrovertFriend, on the other hand, loves being in a room packed with people.
But I love people! I really enjoy being around people. I couldn’t live in a hermitage. And as introverted as I am, there are people who I can almost seamlessly integrate into my peace and quiet. Like with many introverts, one of the most meaningful ways I show people I love them is by hanging out in a room with them for hours on end and ignoring them completely. It means that someone is close enough to me that their being around doesn’t disturb the sense of comfort, peace and productivity I get from being alone.
In our conversation the other day, ExtrovertFriend talked a little about her own experiences with what she described as introversion, and of how she overcame her own social awkwardnesses over the course of her life. And then I asked her a question. I asked her if she thought of me as socially awkward.
You see, I’m not tremendously socially awkward. Oh, I’m a bit, definitely. There are social situations- generally the kind that I don’t like and don’t do much of anyway- that give me massive nerves. I can’t understand why people like clubbing, for example. It’s one of those weird, geese-juggling phenomena that most of the people around me really like and that have me cringing in horror. And the idea of the kind of social events where you’re expected to mingle and small-talk with people baffles me. Buggered if I know what to say to utter strangers who’ll be off talking to someone else in a few minutes anyway. And isn’t it rude to just go up to a stranger and start talking to them? I never got the hang of it.
I think, though, that when naturally extroverted people talk about overcoming their introversion, what they really mean is that they overcame their social awkwardness or anxiety. As an introvert, I can be happy as a clam while out being social. But I’ll still want a lot of time alone.
What on earth, you may ask, has all of this got to do with activism? As intersectional feminists, both myself and ExtrovertFriend are committed to the idea that activism- any activism- has to involve getting out of yourself and your own situation and taking into account what’s going on for others. If you don’t do that, you might as well stay at home. This is, of course, a lot more difficult when you’re someone who tends towards solitude and small groups of people. If you’re simply less likely to want to be around other people all the time, and if the time you do spend around others is likely to be focused more on smaller groups of closer friends, then- we figure- you’re simply less inclined to get out there and get to know a lot of people from different backgrounds and situations to yourself. And while introverts are perhaps more likely to read books by people from all over the map, it’s not really the same, is it?
Of course, as an intersectionalist I also feel it’s important to mention that we do live in a world that’s geared toward extroverts. You don’t get to walk into an interview and say “Other people and teamwork are okay, but really, I’d far prefer to be just left alone to get on with it”. There’s a glamour to being a social butterfly that you simply don’t get if your idea of fun includes, say, sitting on your own typing away while your latest experiment in dessert bakes away in the kitchen. And you wouldn’t believe the looks you get when you tell people that yes, you are off hiking for a month on your own.
But when it comes to activism, how to make use of introverted qualities is a question worth asking. Once we stop looking at introversion as something like social awkwardness or anxiety that is somehow a problem, we can start looking into what to do with it. How do we compensate for our tendency to have smaller circles? Is that even a problem to begin with? What are the valuable things that introverts can bring to the activism table? And is this idea of activism itself something that suffers from being geared, as so many things are, towards the extroverts among us?
And similarly, as we talk about valuing what’s awesome about introversion, what about asking questions about what’s the matter with extroversion? Are there ways in which the social butterflies among us tend to take over, and should they be taking responsibility for compensating for that?