by Shaker Caitiecat, a total history wonk, and also hungry, so she's gonna make some lunch now.
Wendi Muse wrote a really thought-provoking piece at racialicious, on how nostalgia is a sport for the privileged. She's referring not to "Oh, I liked that tire swing in my front yard when I was a carefree child," but rather the "Oh, they had such beautiful dresses during the Regency, and the manners were so lovely, and and and..."
It's this nostalgia that's driven the making of some of my favourite films: Howard's End, A Room With A View, Enchanted April, and so on (though these aren't Regency, of course!—but the same applies to all the BBC costume dramas, so fair enough). And like the aptly-named Ms. Muse1, I often imagine myself in these places and times...until I come back to earth with a solid clunk, remembering who I am.
Because, of course, I, as a twice_immigrant, would have been lucky to have been even once immigrant. My family are from the working class, always have been: no fancy dresses for us! I'd have been one of many children born to a Catholic working-class family (because my mother would have been very unlikely to have married a Protestant man, as she did in this life). I'd have been lucky to have survived the birth experience, honestly, given my physical oddities. People like me (intersexed persons) were often killed at birth, in days gone by (and I don't mean more than 100 years ago, either).
And even if I had survived, the odds are very good I'd have been pretty much completely uneducated (certainly from my now-self's POV). The only way I'd be likely to speak French would be to have been born in France instead, same for German, even more so for Russian—hell, the upper classes in Russia didn't speak Russian (much)! The sanitation and accommodation wouldn't have bothered me as much, because I'd have grown up expecting that, as opposed to my privileged now-self.
So, no fancy dresses, and no languages, and no toilets or antibiotics or surgery or books or...well, anything that I currently enjoy. This is already looking like a time when Caitiecat would be a Very Sad Panda. At least I'd not have to face what my friends who are persons of colour would have: outright slavery, societally-mandated discrimination, miscegenation laws, disenfranchisement. Granted, I'd probably have been more or less owned by whatever mill I was working in, as a child, but I'd have had the fiction of freedom.
But, ah, then we remember that other little thing…that even if I'd survived my birth, the chances that I'd ever get to live as me—as the woman my friends and family know and love today—would be twofold: fat chance and slim chance.
I'd have spent my life—probably a truncated one, remembering my enormous unhappiness, the towering rage I felt before I could begin being myself; I'd have been dead by 30, either of suicide or of finally fighting that one person who was that much tougher than me, or maybe hanged for theft?—stuck playing a role I loathed, desperate and unhappy, forever and ever amen.
If in my desperation to prove myself really a normal boy, I had joined the military as I did in my own life, I'd be asking for a life of misery, harsh treatment, and a likely lonely end on some patch of dirt we were trying to keep pink on a map, through the brutal repression of its current inhabitants. Maybe even the patch of dirt I now live on, as a privileged Canadian woman.
Kinda puts it in perspective, no? I'll continue feeling that nostalgia, I expect, but it'll always have a fair helping of bitter in with the sweet. In the end, it reminds me of the enormous good fortune it has taken for me to be who I am this day. In all the history of the world, the only time I could have been me as I am, was pretty much from the time I was born (mid-60s)—maybe back a decade or two, but not much more.
So yes, Ms. Muse, I agree completely. A sport for the privileged.
It's kind of a hellish thought, though, to cast my mind back, through all those centuries, to all those people like me, and like Ms. Muse, who never had the chance to write a word about their lives. It's harsh to think that as difficult as life can be for the less-privileged among us today, it's often infinitely better than we'd have fared in the world of those movies and books.
But, better is not good. Like someone else I know, I still expect more.
1 Given she both inspired this post, and the post is about musing.
[Cross-posted at Twice Immigrant.]