On Inclusion at Shakesville

Not infrequently, the issue of inclusion/authorship at Shakesville comes up in threads here, or at other blogs, or arrives in my inbox. Typically, criticisms center on my not writing enough on a particular demographic of which I'm not a part or an issue that doesn't directly affect me, or not writing about them/their issue in the right way, or leaving too much of this or that to guest contributors, or not featuring enough guest contributors of a particular marginalized group.

So let me just take a moment to explain again my philosophy on this stuff.

As I once said to Renee regarding what issues still need more attention, "the list is endless. There are so many issues of concern to marginalized people which are all but invisible within mainstream culture—so much 'conventional wisdom' about sex, race, sexuality, gender expression, body size and stature, disability, mental illness, addiction, class, religion (and lack thereof), sexual assault, etc. that needs to be challenged. Any lack of parity in any place among any people means that we've still got work to do."

The truth is, I'm not sure I can talk about anything "enough"—which is not a backhanded way of avoiding all critique, but an honest attempt to address a reality that is true for every single marginalization about which I write. There is a lot of goddamned teaspooning to do.

Saying that doesn't mean I believe I'm above criticism on either the quantity or quality of my blogging on any issue. It means only that I engage in good faith concerns about content at Shakesville, or the lack thereof; if you bring to me a complaint regarding this or that getting less attention than it needs, I likely agree and hope you will work with me to do something about it.

Which brings me to guest posts.

Let me go back to something else I said in that interview with Renee:
I don't find that I have difficulty balancing interests; there's not a finite amount of space at Shakesville, so I don't feel as though anything ever has to be sacrificed in favor of something else, except insomuch as it comes to what I personally have time to cover—although, as regards issues of intersectionality, I'm obviously not the best person to cover every issue, or even most, anyway. I struggle more with trying to find people who are willing to bring their unique perspectives to Shakesville, who can speak to experiences and intersectionalities I simply don't have.

I am immensely grateful to the women and men of color, LGBTQIs, parents, women and men who are differently- or disabled, chronically ill, atypically partnered, non-American, recovering addicts, formerly homeless, abuse survivors, etc. who tell pieces of their stories and share their perspectives at Shakesville. Because marginalized people's stories often aren't told in the mainstream (or told with some fucked-up agenda), it's incumbent upon us to tell our own stories on our own terms wherever we can, to fill that void, to be unrepentant and loquacious raconteurs every chance we get, to talk about our bodies, our struggles, our triumphs, our needs, our lives in every aspect. It's our obligation to create a cacophony with our personal narratives, until there is a constant din that translates into equality, into balance. Making the personal public and political is so important—and I want to use Shakesville toward that objective as best I can.
The two relevant ideas there are: I am not always the best person to speak about everything; and: Personal narratives are an extremely powerful bit of teaspooning.

Part of the reason I can write with a particular passion about feminist issues is because I am a woman, and fat issues because I am fat, and queer issues because I have been in a queer relationship, and sexual assault issues because I am a survivor of multiple sexual assaults. One of the earliest widely-linked posts at Shakesville was my post The Sound of My Voice, in which I came out as a survivor of sexual assault. And one of last year's most widely-linked posts at Shakesville was Shaker Anonymous' post Breaking the Silence: On Living Pro-Lifers' Choice for Women. Both of those are personal narratives that no one else could have written—and it is impossible to underestimate the difference between someone writing a generic post about rape or adoption and someone talking about her rape or giving up her child for adoption.

I cannot write a post like that about chronic disease, or any disability but my own, or being trans, or being gay, or being a woman of color, or being a man who feels the bootheel of the patriarchy on his neck, or being a dwarf, or any one of a million things, which means if I don't open up this space to people who can, those posts won't exist at Shakesville.

I opened this space and made it a group blog with guest contributors because I am one person with one person's experiences and intersectionalities. I opened it up because I am flawed; I fuck up; I fail; I commit sins of omission; I can't and don't do enough on a variety of issues. I opened it up because I will never be as strong an advocate for your needs as you are—and no one else can tell your story.

I also don't have time to make myself familiar—to the degree of confidence and expertise that I require before I write about something, so I can answer questions that readers will inevitably have on any new subject I introduce—with every issue that someone wants me to cover. I get hundreds of emails every day, and many of them are from people admonishing me to familiarize myself with their issue and get to work on their behalf.

I'm not asking anyone to feel sorry for me; that's just the reality of running this blog. Lots of people want a piece of my time, and telling me to learn about something doesn't actually create more of it, which is what I need to be able to cover a new (to me) issue.

Issues about which I can write with clarity and confidence are frequently issues in which I've been immersed for years. When I write a post about a particular issue, and someone comments on my ability to perfectly put into words what they've always felt but have never been able to articulate, that's not magic. If innate talent plays any role at all, it's a vanishingly small part compared to the decidedly unsexy role of daily practice and hard work.

When I write about a subject I know inside and out, it shows. And when I write about a subject I don't know inside and out, that shows, too. I don't like writing about things I don't know a hell of a lot about—because I am more likely to get something wrong, inadvertently offend the people most intimately affected, end up being counterproductive to the cause, be generally unhelpful and make a hash of it.

I have no interest in pretending I know everything about everything, which is why I invite people to write in this space with me.

That's not an abdication of responsibility as a feminist or as a progressive. It's just the best I've got to balance my finite output against infinite needs, to facilitate inclusion, to avoid appropriation, and to make available whatever little platform I've got to my allies.

So, please: If you don't see here what you'd like to see, pick up your teaspoon.

[Originally posted in similar form on March 24, 2009.]

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