Sunday, 31 January 2010

Post No. 103 - Disrespect (was going to be privilege): a clarification on control

Let me begin by warning you that this is basically a vent - a bit of a rant. My apologies.

I've just been at an annual picnic for polyamorous people organised by a local group. Prior to that, I had been planning on writing a post this week about privilege, as there has been a great deal of debate about racism in my state (Victoria - and yes, I consider Australia does have a problem with racism, but I'll get to that later).

The picnic was OK: the weather was WAY too hot (38 degrees Celsius), and I'm not a social butterfly, but the venue was magnificent (the Fairfield park - look at the photos of the Boathouse and Pipe Bridge in the Wikipedia listing; I'm planning on going back there in winter to get some photos) - and we got a cool change.

However, as we were leaving, I wound up in a debate with someone who wanted to be disrespectful and refer to trans people by the wrong pronouns (i.e. not the pronouns of their choice). This person was quite intransigent, and basically a useful reminder for me of the reasons that laws are necessary, and are based on the behaviour of reasonable people: unreasonable people are, oddly enough, unreasonable - and there was certainly no reasoning with this bloke!

As Martin Luther King Jr put it: "The law may not change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless".

I have been doing lobbying and human rights education for decades, and my opinion,
based on decades of experience, is that there are some people who will not change in this
incarnation. They will have to come back in a much tougher life, and learn the hard way -
perhaps even becoming what they are having trouble accepting, even.

I knew someone a few decades ago who for some incredible reason had a problem with Greek
people. She and I happened to be talking about past lives one day, and, after she said she
found what we had been in the past fascinating, I commented that I found the topic of what
we could be in the future just as fascinating. She took the bait ("hook, line and sinker"), and
I then told her she would most probably come back as someone who is Greek. (Incidentally, at that stage, unlike the last few decades, I didn't have any Greek friends. On a related matter, I wish I could make those Australians who are racially abusing others, particularly Indians, understand that they are likely to come back as whatever they hate - i.e., Indians or the race or group [e.g., women] that they are abusing. [Even better still - just make them understand the wrongness of what they are doing in this lifetime ... ])

She may not want to reincarnate as a Greek, of course, but it would be a case of a battle between her consciousness here, and her soul - her soul being truest, innermost essence (which would want that parallel to get over with this prejudice so it can get on with evolving), and in such cases, the soul wins.

Sorry, folks, in that is disturbing or unsettling. I don't find it so, as I consider my soul knows a hell of a lot more than I - I'll possibly seek to discuss (maybe even "argue") the toss, but ultimately, the decision will be made by the more experienced, aware and knowledge part of myself. So it is me that makes the decision, just not necessarily the me that I know while I'm in this incarnation!

That gets me back to the discussion I had earlier today. The person concerned, lets call him, 'M', was at the picnic with a person who is a mutual friend of myself and my partner, and I was there with my partner. The essence of the debate was that M thinks he should be able to think and say whatever he wants, and that other people seeking to have him be respectful is an imposition on his freedom. (He reminds me of the men in the film "XXY", who, after sexually assaulting the person with XXY chromosomes, claim to have done nothing wrong.)

OK, my view is that he is wrong - pure and simple. Having to change and have consideration for others is part of growing up, let alone evolving spiritually, and his argument seemed to me to be predicated on not wanting to change. As an example of that, when we were speaking of a third party, I told M that the person clearly preferred to be referred to as female, as had our mutual friend some weeks ago, and yet M continued with the wrong pronouns - despite saying that this was simply a case of not knowing what to do. (I suspect M became clearer about what he wanted to do and argue for as the debate proceeded, so he possibly did learn something from this experience.)

I've come across this sort of intransigent attitude before, and it seems to me to be the spiritual equivalent of a two year old's tantrum. In fact, this sort of attitude in the workplace was what drove me into some very active lobbying to change local equal rights laws back in the 90s, and contributed to the ending of a (romantic) relationship a few years ago.

Oh - he tried the old furphy about "buts it's so hard to tell whether they're male or female". Rubbish. The only difficulty is that you actively REFUSE to acknowledge what is before your eyes, and try to shove it into a neatly labelled box that you were given once before, labelled "male", or "female" (no other boxes being present for, say, bigendered people; in my experience, this sort of attitude comes with the prejudiced person trying to weigh up pre-defined characteristics - yes, they have 3 characteristics from Box A, but the 2 characteristics from Box B are more important so I'll call them "B" - and that attitide applies to far more than just gender).

It is NOT difficult to work out how to be respectful - for a start, the other person's response (e.g., body language) will tell you if you have made a faux pax. If, despite this, you are genuinely not sure, ask the person if you can have a word in private (you don't blurt sensitive questions like this out in public), and ASK THEM what THEY prefer.

It's worth thinking about the word respect. Wikipedia says, in part,on this:
Respect denotes both a positive feeling of esteem for a person or other entity (such as a nation or a religion), and also specific actions and conduct representative of that esteem. Respect can be a specific feeling of regard for the actual qualities of the one respected (e.g., "I have great respect for her judgment"). It can also be conduct in accord with a specific ethic of respect. Rude conduct is usually considered to indicate a lack of respect, whereas actions that honor somebody or something indicate respect.
One of the most fundamental attacks that you can make on a trans person is to reject their identity. This is potentially something which can happen many times, in a wide variety of situations - and, in my experience, this, rather than any inherent internal problems with being trans, is what mostly causes problems with suicide and depression. It's not being trans per se, it's the discrimination meted out through denial of the trans person's very real knowledge.

Part of M's problem was, whether he knows it or not, boils down to that he thinks he knows other people better than themselves. He certainly was reluctant to apologise for his very long history of getting pronouns wrong when referring to me - and even tried to claim that I was basing my reaction to his behaviour on his ethnicity rather than his past behaviour towards me (which was complete rubbish). It got to the stage where three of us were telling him he was wrong, and he was refusing to budge. Why? Too proud to admit an error? Feel threatened if someone says he is wrong - or perhaps feeling threatened if someone female says he is wrong? (On that, what about me being threatened by him: why does that not count in that person's world?)

Another part of the problem was that his opinion was based on stereotypes of gender roles - he didn't even know about problems of hirsutism in women (particularly post-menopausal women); he didn't know about "screamers" * in the lesbian world or women with deep voices because of smoking. His opinion was that he would only extend courtesy to trans people if they were making an effort to fit into HIS ideas of what a gender role should be ... bad luck if they're a moderately butch dyke like me, eh! (I've written elsewhere about the view, only a few decades ago, that cheerleading was something that was "manly", and allowing women to be cheerleaders could "masculinise" them - there are so many examples of how what is acceptable/unacceptable behaviour for a gender has changed over time - look at the Wikpedia article on this topic, and do some research on the idea of gender as a social construct.)

On that, whilst from a pragmatic point of view I can understand the value of education (people can be taught not to discriminate, just as they are often taught to discriminate in the first place), it annoys me that there is a widespread expectation that trans people will willingly discuss personal, intimate details of their medical history, something normally considered private (and probably covered by the Privacy Act, when it comes down to it) with people who not only are complete strangers, but are often displaying aggressive antipathy towards the trans person (as M was). (From a spiritual point of view, the need to have to go to elaborate educative steps shows the lack of spirituality of the aggressors: they WILL need to repeat that lesson, in similar circumstances, before than can progress to much further - and EVERYONE will eventually have to get the stage where they can be respectful without having been "educated" ... )

No wonder so many trans people try to fit in to stereotypes (it basically has survival value), and M didn't like having the risks he was creating for trans people in some public situations by using the wrong pronouns pointed out to him, but that is part of learning to be aware and considerate of other people, which is a part of the spiritual growth that we have been placed on this planet to achieve. (Knowing oneself is also a key part, but so is an increasing awareness - I've been working on the topic "what is a spiritual person" for a while, and these are some of the points I make in that. In fact, it can be interesting at some events to watch who stands in the way of others, or to watch who breaks the law [e.g. parking laws] for their own convenience, possibly thus greatly inconveniencing many others, or rushes off away from others they are with who are perhaps differently abled and thus not able to walk as quickly, who gives away their true spiritual status by their actions, which may be in conflict with their words.)

As I mentioned, M saw this as a case of others trying to control him. The truth is, he was actively controlling and influencing others - whether he was consciously trying to or not, and irrespective of any malice. (If a brick is accidentally dropped off a high building site and kills someone, the person has died irrespective of the motivations of the person who committed the "accident" - although, as someone who has an active role in OHS, I have to say that very few things are actualy accidents!) Apart from the hurt caused directly, M's behaviour could quite seriously put others at risk, but he didn't want to consider that there could be red necks in an area who he could trigger a response in by using the wrong pronouns when talking of someone.

With other people exhibiting that sort of problematic behaviour, the problem could be that they are insecure in their own sense of gender/sexuality (a "nice" explanation of this is that they may have been socialised into thinking being anything other than hetero is "bad", but the TRUTH is that advanced ["spiritual"] people don't have to go through any education to behave respectfully towards others), which is something I have seen in the workplace around the transition of trans people. In this case, I have to accept M's words at their face value, and accept that he has had experience of gender variant people, so - provided what he said is true, and he genuinely has behaved respectfully towards those other gender variant people - I should discount that possibility. (A similar motivation that I have encountered in some men around same sex attracted women is resenting that someone has been "removed" from the pool of potential partners - which is a case of, oh they wish!!!)

Apart from the fundamental issue of respect, some other key issues, as I see it, are:
(1) M does not see trans people or their advocates as having any credibility, and/or
(2) M has a fear of changing.

The first point is pure and simple arrogance on the part of M - and hypocrisy, given his desire to be able to think whatever he wants, a freedom he is clearly not prepared to extend to others.

On the second point, changing oneself can be a scary prospect for some people - they may feel, for instance, who am I/who will I be if I change? How do I keep a track of that? There is a bit of a New Age "urban myth" that cancer is a refusal to grow or change: that IS the case with some people, but there are a wide range of other reasons as well (including the carcinogenicity of some chemicals), but it has happened in some cases, and I have personally seen people who would rather die than change. (If I extend that to metaphorical, I could say I know people who would rather die than admit they are wrong :) ) This attitude is a bit of a shame, given that nothing is permanent ...

A significant aspect to today's incident is that I don't care what M thinks - he is just not important to me as a person (although even with people who are close [e.g. rellies I don't have much to do with, and have shown no interest in me or my adoptive sister], this may be the case). I only care that his external behaviour is such that I am safe, and that was what he was making clear he would not extend to me (by refusal to apologise for many such past wrong doings). He can think whatever he wants to (although, people being people, if he doesn't think of trans people as being the gender they identify as, his prejudice is very likely to "leak out"), and I'll deal with the psychic attack aspects of his behaviour.

Now, although I can deal with the psychic energy involved (although this whole incident has left me quite depressed - I am working on that, though!), I have better things to do with my life than put up with such small mindedness. Consequently, I won't go to such social events again (unless there is a major (profound) change in M's behaviour).

Now, I was going to post about privilege. Well, I still will in the near future, and as a link from this post to that one, I'd like to include an email I sent recently to my local MP:

"A couple of hours ago, while my partner and I were returning from a fundraising event, we stopped to have a late meal in High Street. While walking from our car to the shop, we noticed an elderly man, looking somewhat unkempt, with a shopping bag. He wasn't going anywhere, or doing anything in particular, just sitting, maybe watching the crowd go by - a crowd who, other than the two of us, seemed completely and utterly oblivious to this man. In fact, at one stage, he evidently heard some people talking about sitting on a bench, and since his was the only one in the area, he stood up before they approached to leave the seat vacant. Fairly clearly he was innocuous, and seemed most probably homeless. We slipped him some money - unasked for: he wasn't begging, and he seemed quite pleased to receive it, but as we drove home, we discussed the incident, and what we did seemed such a small thing to do, and we felt it would be nice to do more. I have only lived in this area for a couple of years, and still have not learned of all the resources which may be available here. I knew of some of the resources in Frankston - some formal, others not. For example, a friend of mine in Frankston used to search the streets late at night to find homeless people, and would find somewhere to house them overnight (one of those homeless people actually later married a friend of mine). Are there any resources which are available in the Northcote area that I can refer homeless people to - particularly late at night? I would appreciate your advice - including any contacts you may care to suggest I communicate with."

This theme of "not seeing" also crops up with the widespread problem of racism ... and with not acknowledging that one may have privilege in some way. I have seen first hand the conditions that some people have to live with when my day job has taken me to Asia - particularly when I befriended the woman who cleaned the room of a hotel I was staying at, and got to go to her one roomed home, down a narrow alleyway, in Hanoi. (The neighbourhood kids kept coming in and out to look at the crazy Western lady who had come to such a poor place - and when I made them a paper plane ... wow!) This sort of privilege is very well illustrated in Li Cunxin's book "Mao's Last Dancer".

I've often wondered why people are so scared to admit that they have privilege in some way - maybe they think they'll lose it if they admit they have something that millions of other's don't, something like clean drinking water, more than ample food, clothing, a roof and shelter, the security of a job, not having been born with a disability, .... Maybe they're scared they'll lose it, but I sadly think it is more likely that they are simply too metaphorically blind to notice what they have (which is, karmically and spiritually speaking, more likely to cause exactly that to happen), much as M is too blind to notice what he has been doing for years.

This world has quite some way to go. SIGH

* A screamer is someone who screams to develop a lower pitched or husky voice (often done in isolated areas). I've also thought ocassionally of some lesbian, separatist feminists I know wheo are anti-trans and the likelihood that they will come back as a trans person. At least they will have the support of those lesbian, separatist feminists who are NOT anti-trans ...

Love, light, hugs and blessings


PS - I am having problems with a "bad request" message, and so have had to use other PCs to work on this blog. One of the suggested solutions I've tried is changing the template back to "classic", which is why the appearance of this blog has changed - and, unfortunately, it still hasn't fixed the problem ...

Tags: discrimination, life lessons, personal responsibility, personal characteristics, Psychic attack, control, gender, Li Cunxin, Martin Luther King Jr, polyamory, racism, stereotypes,

First published: Tuesday 2nd February, 2010

Last edited: Tuesday 2nd February, 2010