Friday, September 26, 2014

Where do we turn for truth?

I'm going to keep writing about this, guys.  I hate that I'm going to keep writing about it...and I also have to keep writing about it.  For me.  For women.  For all of us seeking to understand our experiences, I have to write this.

(For you who have no clue what I'm talking about, read part 1 and part 2 to catch up.  Or read on.  It'll peak your curiosity enough to want some context, I'm sure).  

And you know, I notice something I'm not proud of.  I worked really hard over the past several months to NOT undermine myself.  To stop apologizing.  To stop selling myself short.  I had gotten good at it.  Not great, but at the very least I noticed the tendency to be pulled in that direction, and I could sometimes stop myself.  We had a fantastic conversation about this in my class, actually.  We listened to Lily Myers' poem, "Shrinking Women," in which she says, "I asked 3 questions in Genetics class the other day, and all of them started with 'sorry.'"  I gently called out a young woman in my class who starts every comment or answer with, "I'm sure this is probably wrong," or "I don't think this is right, but..."  We had an amazing conversation about it.

But do you know what I REALLY wanted my first sentence to be?  Do you know what I wrote first?  "I'm sorry that I'm still writing about this."  It's been two whole days.  I mean seriously.  Who am I to talk about this for two whole days?


I fell back into that pattern, and I see it.  In talking to a good friend online, he said about my last blog post, "it makes me angry on your behalf."

"Thank you," I said.  "And I'm sorry." 

"Sorry for what?" he asked.  And honestly...I had to think about it.  The "sorry" just popped out automatically.  Sorry I made him feel angry on my behalf?  Yes...that's actually the answer.  And it's also ridiculous. 

I can change this pattern, and I will, but I think it's interesting and noteworthy, right?  Make me feel unsafe, make me feel unable to advocate for myself...and I fall back into those patterns of apologizing, of undermining, of not wanting to take up space.  Feeling unworthy is like sand: that shit gets everywhere, and it's impossible to get rid of it.  It just keeps coming back.  Even when you think it's gone, you find a bit in your suitcase or in your shoes.  How would the world be different -- how would women be different -- if we were able to always (or almost always) feel as though we and our bodies and our safety mattered?

I also want to make it clear that it takes serious bravery to write this stuff.  This isn't just stream-of-consciousness, make me feel better type of writing.  I am grateful, always grateful, that I am a writer and that I have this ability to think and reach answers through my words.  But this is work, and it does require a unique level of bravery.  It's not easy.  It's just not.

Tonight, I'm thinking about what I said about intuition.  I'm thinking about the ways our bodies communicate with us, and the way I try to listen to my body.  I'm not always good at it, but I try.  She tells me what I need.  She alerts me when there is danger.  She has in-born mechanisms that kick-in without me giving them the conscious okay that assist in keeping me safe.  It's pretty amazing when you think about it.

We tell ourselves and our friends all the time: listen to your body.  Trust yourself.  Figure out what it is that YOU need and do it.  You deserve to feel safe.  You deserve to take care of your body.  You deserve to do what you need to feel secure. 

And that's true, right?  Of course it is. 

 But here's what we don't think about: sometimes our bodies get mixed up.  I was going to say that they lie, but I don't believe that's true.  A young man I work with tells me that he doesn't get the answers on his homework WRONG, per se...he just sometimes gets mixed up.  And I think that's right.  I think that's what's happening here.  My body isn't wrong.  It isn't lying.  It's just a little mixed up sometimes, and it's hard to tell what will actually be the right choice. 

Earlier tonight, in the middle of choir practice, my body freaked out momentarily for no good reason other than the fact that I realized that I would be leaving at 9:00 and it would be dark and I would have to walk across the dark parking lot to my car.  For a moment, in the middle of fumbling my way through page 48 of Handel's Messiah, my body convinced me that something bad would happen - that I would be unsafe - in the parking lot of my church. 

And I'm not saying that could NEVER happen.  I'm just saying that I could be 100% certain that I would be leaving the building with 2, or 5, or 10, or 20 people who care about me and my wellbeing, and while no place is ever 100% safe...this particular scenario ranks pretty high up there.

Like I said, my body...she gets mixed up sometimes.

It gets complicated very quickly.  I know, for example, that calling Security for an escort to my car is the right choice.  But honestly, every part of my body HATES this idea.  Hates it.  Like, panics when I think about it.  My breathing gets tight tight tight, I feel my shoulders clench, and something in the pit of my stomach forms an impenetrable rock.  When I make myself think through calling them, tears sting my eyes, and I want to curl up under my covers forever.  This is truth.

How, then, do we know when to listen to our bodies?  How do we trust when it is making the right decision?  How do I know -- like really know -- what is right, and safe, and trustworthy, when my body is all mixed up and can no longer tell the difference?  What then?

I've been thinking about a workshop I went to on welcoming people with disabilities.  In it, it was said that accommodations should be present and available, at the ready, such that people do not even need to ask.  This is how we create a welcoming and inclusive community, they said.  This is how we send the message you matter, and you are welcome here.  And it makes sense, right?  If the things a person might need are available (after a need has become clear), why make a person have to ask, time and time again?  We are trained from the time we are little that if we ask for something repetitiously, we are kinda a pain in the butt.  Personally, I'm not a fan of being a pain in the butt.

This is a piece of my issue with this, I guess.  I just feel like...if my safety and security mattered, they would have a security presence in the building.  If my safety and security mattered, they would have people there, whose job it is to walk people out.  If it mattered, I wouldn't have to call them away from their desks all the way on the other side of campus.  Instead, I need to call them every damn week and have them come something could happen in the interim that would make me safe.  (Am I going to grow 10 inches, a beard, and a certain piece of genitalia in the next few weeks?  I think not).  Barring that, I need to feel like what I need in order to have my most basic safety and security needs met is an accommodation.  Something that people need to go out of their way to provide.  And I just don't like making people go out of their way. 

In my head, I keep asking myself, "what do you even want, Autodidact?  What is it that you want?"  I wonder if I'm expecting too much.  I wonder if I'm asking for too much.  I convince myself that this is just a "me" thing, and that it doesn't really matter.  Does it matter?  Does it matter if one person feels unsafe?  Two people?  Five?  When is there a critical mass of people such that change should be made?  When is it enough such that we will be heard?

I keep thinking about the words of the Director of Security in an email he sent.  "As uncomfortable as it may have been," he wrote, "please know that they are welcome here to pursue their union activity." 

What privilege that statement conveys, no?  "Uncomfortable," he says...when the words in my email were "unsafe" and "threatened."  "They are welcome here," he says...which makes me - the person employed by this institution - wonder: am I also welcome here?  He says this as if he knows that, because there is legitimate union activity that has been authorized, he knows that this person (this person without obvious credentials, I may add), would not have been a threat.  What a privilege it is to be able to believe that people are who they say they are and are who they seem, simply because they say it.  What a privilege to believe that being an authorized union representative and being a guy-who-could-hurt-a-woman must be mutually exclusive.   

But then we -- we with the confused bodies --how do we know what is right anymore?  How do we know what is safe?  We whose experiences have been denied, or downplayed, or whose direct requests for change have been shot-down, how do we know our requests are valid?  How do we remember that we are worth the struggle? How do we come to believe again in our own body's ability to tell us what is true?

And in the absence of our body's voice...where do we turn for truth?

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, how dare you keep going on about this a couple days later. *eyeroll*
    Have I told you enough times how amazing you are? Because I will tell you a million and one more times if that would work, and I know it won't, but I wish it would.

    When I am in the sort of situation where I am asking myself "But what do I really want?" - over something I am tearing myself up over, sometimes needlessly, sometimes so needfully - I often find the answer is, "To go back in time." It's unrealistic. It's a pipe dream. And it's at the bottom of this web we all get snared in, I think.

    Your body is sometimes giving you signals you can't fully trust because of its lived reality. We have muscle memory. We have emotional memory. It only stands to reason we must have fear-memory. I mean strictly evolutionarily speaking, doesn't it make sense that if one predator manages to harm us in X circumstance, then it bodes well for our survival that our bodies then react with a fight-or-flight response every time we approach a similar circumstance to X? Because we self-preserve?

    We are all caught in this web. I was once taught "Forgiveness is remembering that we hurt others." Not to set aside any kind of "hierarchy of hurt" - no, anything you might have done to someone is nowhere near as bad as some of the things that have been done to you - but to ground our shared experience. How DO we learn to trust our bodies again? Well how do our bodies un-learn danger? That shit is IMPORTANT.

    As ever, as always, I don't have answers. As ever, as always, you are amazing. And please, as ever, as always - please keep writing.