the philosophactivist

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Silencing and Voicelessness- a QPOC, limited ability/chronically ill perspective

It can be hard to understand the life of a gender non-conforming person. Some are lucky enough to be called by the pronouns they wish to be called by in their home life and at work- others are closeted and must deal with the daily contradictions of presenting in a way that is "acceptable" in the work environment and to family, etc. Some of us spend so much time working on who we are and discovering our identity only to be ushered back into the closet on numerous occasions- daily.

I'm going to speak from the experience of being a gender non-conforming person of color with Systemic Lupus. Voicelessness is something that I've struggled with throughout my life. Mostly because I was born brown and female-bodied  in the South. In my generation...African- American kids did not question authority. Not your parents...not your aunties and uncles...and all this was training for dealing with white policemen,white teachers, principals and doctors and a predominantly white upper management in the workforce. Some of this was taught unconsciously. We needed to "understand our place". Once in Jacksonville, Florida when some male cousins and I were discriminated against and accused of shoplifting in a Walgreens the elders in my family chastised us for going to the "white" walgreens and said we should have gone to the "black" one. So, race/ethnicity has definitely made me feel crippled at times. Especially in the ivory tower where your views and perspectives are made to feel less valid and many times you feel like an outsider in your cohort--because of race and sometimes, gender.

Being female-bodied, we internalize all kinds of sexism and misogyny. Women have their roles, and one of them is not to speak up- unless a man has been affected. Maybe a son or a husband - or even some stranger.Women have spent centuries being told to keep quiet and stay in their place. Women have fought for liberation for decades, but the vestiges of the patriarchy are everywhere. Being read female and being partially socialized as such for decades, I have not gone unscathed. The various institutions I trusted (why? I have no idea) many times told me exactly where I was "allowed" to go. I defied this of course with the best of my ability, I took note as I watched my black mother navigate the systems.

Queer people of color are oftened silenced.Silenced and voiceless imply two different things for me. When you are silenced- people are unintentionally or intentionally invalidating you and your ideas. When you are voiceless- you are silenced but there may be other factors contributing to being unheard. Silencing can be overt while the variables lending themselves to a person feeling voiceless can be very subtle. Being a QPOC or being genderqueer makes a person marginalized within a marginalized group. Who listens to the queer black or brown man's hardships or those of the gender non-conforming? We're always being told to be quiet because we're being too divisive by expressing how our social and economic concerns are different. All discrimination is not equal. Many of us face double or triple the discrimination because of intersecting identities such as race,class,gender, and sexuality.

I have been pondering on something recently as far as what others might mistake as me being voiceless. As a genderqueer, masculine of center person I am constantly monitoring my interactions with women. Especially my partner. And sometimes this is misread. I am not being unassertive, I am trying to respect her. When I say that I'm trying not to take up a lot of space when I'm in mostly women's spaces with has nothing to do with my confidence and everything to do with the fact that I want to honor those women who are continuously marginalized and not allowed to speak, including her. I realize what my interactions with men and my occasionally being read as male does to my interactions with women. I try to check them. But also as a masculine of center person who may more frequently be read as female because of my features, at times I am still silenced and voiceless. All I know is...that I don't want to contribute to the voicelessness and silencing of women who I truly respect. I don't think that makes me soft or weak...and it hurts when things said about my hypersensitivity to taking up too much space are read as such. How does that make me any less masculine? How does that make me less strong? I'm not going to throw around my weight because I'm in a room of women or even a room of men. That's not what I'm about. It is important for transmen to recognize our privilege and also to learn to balance it with decades of past and continuing marginalization. It's definitely an on-going process.

As a gender non-conforming person with a chronic (and sometimes fatal) disease I get no respect from most of my doctors and am always searching for the one doctor who is not racist, or sexist, or homophobic. It's so hard to find a doctor lacking at least two or more of these wonderful means of discrimination. I have a disease that doctors and the world are just now learning more about- one where at times you're fine and other times you feel like a 16 wheeler hit you and backed up over you...for months. Sometimes you appear healthy when your kidneys or brain is failing. No one understands your pain- not parents, partners or doctors. So your experience is often invalidated and goes unheard by those you expected to support you the most. I must say that unfortunately I have had this experience at one of my lowest and most trying points with SLE. My parents were in denial, most of my friends were too busy to even check in with me...but I am very appreciative of the handful that were there for me. Though I was voiceless in the physician's offices and silenced by rheumatologists and hematologists/oncologists alike, it felt good to be able to have at least three or four people to talk to. Even if some days I just sat immobile, curled up in a ball crying from the pain and not wanting to talk with anyone.

So, I'm marginalized as a brown, female-bodied, genderqueer/gender nonconformist with a disease that no one quite understands. In a lot of my interactions I can't be how I feel and who I am. I can't express myself. People don't acknowledge my identity. Many of these people are close to me. Some have access to my medical records and are expected to treat me (without actually caring who I actually am). I am constantly silenced in this body, with this disease. It's a lot to deal with. Sometimes too much. And at times I have wondered how I could possibly regain my voice. I've yelled, screamed at the top of my lungs but I've been really tired lately. I haven't cared about power struggles in the workplace or academia as much. I've been sick and trying to deal with a diagnosis I got just this past January.But the struggle continues and I'm done with not being heard or people's selective hearing. (Nothing new). I am gathering all my strength as I work on healing myself. I will never be silenced. I am a writer and the pen is a conduit for my voice. So even if I'm not physically able to battle it'll be hearing from me....oh you will.

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