If You Don't Claim It, It's Not Yours to Change

Reading Melissa's post on the girl who's not racist brought up something that has probably been said a non-nillion times, but that I think should be repeated at least as often as the "make sure your seat back and tray-tables are in their upright and locked positions" speech:

If, like me, you grew up in America (and a majority of other countries/cultures on the planet), there is a 99.99999999999% probability that you are too:
Sexual Orientationist

I am all of these things. It's the soup I was simmered in, from the moment this body drew breath.

When I figured out (age 12) that I was queer, I'd never met a queer (that I knew of), and I had never heard an outright condemnation of homosexuality (this was not a word I had EVER heard, in fact) -- still -- no one had to tell me that this was not something I should shout from the top of the monkey-bars at recess.

I had been so thoroughly marinated in the atmosphere of institutionalized homophobia that I knew "instinctively" that this was something I should keep to myself, and I began compensatory action immediately -- like feigning interest in a boy (who, as it turns out, is probably also queer) .

The reason that I think this reminder bears another nonillion repetitions is that, until I acknowledge my "-isms" and "phobias" (externalized or internalized), I don't have a snow-ball's chance in hell of changing them -- because the sneaky little privilege super-hero in my head will keep chanting "That's not me! I'm not like that!"

Take heart: I don't think I'm a "bad" person because I have these "-isms" -- nor do I think you're a "bad" person because you (probably -- like 99.99...% probably) have them.

However, I think I'll be a stupid and ineffective human-rights proponent if I don't realize that I have them, and begin to deal with them.

My internalized homophobia shows up every time I think, however briefly, about whether or not it's safe for me to kiss my girlfriend in the grocery line.

My internalized racism shows up every time I see a new resident in my tiny, whiter-than-white town and notice that they're a person of color, so I give them an extra-wide smile to make sure that they know I welcome them.

My internalized sexism shows up every time I assume that a woman is going to understand my perspective just because she's a woman.

And on, and on, and on. Tiny little indicators, every day, that these "entrainments" are still there in me, and that means I need to deal with them.

For me, it's not enough to pat myself on the back and feel good that I've dealt with some of these -isms in myself more than other people that I know . . . excuse me, I think I have something stuck in my throat . . . uh-uhm . . . *my friend who I really like but who makes subtly misogynist and racist comments daily* . . . uh-uhm . . . I have to keep bringing these things to my awareness and owning them -- I have to be willing to have others assist me in bringing them to my awareness -- or I will never really succeed in transforming them.

The moment I realize that I am entertaining and/or practicing subtle or overt racism, sexism, classism, etc. -- I actually become empowered to view these things as actions that I take, rather than something that I am.

So in support of the concept: "Please secure your own mask before assisting others", I'll offer this paradoxical statement:

The moment you realize you're a racist/sexist/sizeist(substitute your _______-ist here), you actually have a real shot at moving away from that identity.

(Update: -- 'Liss says it way more poetically here: "Though all of us, sans rigorous philosophical exertion, are hapless conduits for every limiting and oppressive archetype upon which the patriarchy depends, conveying the bars of our own cages, very few of us are its unconstrained beneficiaries.")

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