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“Nobody Wants To See That”

At risk of doing that thing wherein I get up early and proceed to make myself late by getting caught up in the wicked hempen seive that is the Internet, I want to comment briefly on a cultural phenomenon that really grinds my gears: specifically, the phrase,

Nobody wants to see that.

Over on Dances With Fat today, there’s a post about how a lot of us just plain don’t want fat people in our eyespace. It’s worth a read (I’ll come back and link it in a bit). It might feel very in-your-face, but I think Reagan Chastain and other fat people have probably earned the right to get a bit confrontational. I’m not sure the rest of us are going to hear them if they don’t.

Some of us will tolerate the appearance of bigger folk conditionally — like, as long as they fall within x distance from “normal” (whatever that is) or as long as they “cover up.”

When they don’t, the given justification is often, “Nobody wants to see that.”

There are some serious problems with that phrase.

First, I beg to differ on purely literal grounds: try dropping in on a convention for bears (not literal bears — 0/10, do not recommend, wildly unsafe — source: every naturalist ever). Try asking anyone who loves someone who’s fat. Try visiting a Sumo match.

Second, though — and more troubling — is the stunning degree of privilege and/or internalized prejudice entailed in that phrase.

Think about it: when, in judging someone else, we say no one wants to see that, what we’re really saying is:

A. Of course my personal likes and dislikes are of critical importance to how all other people live in their bodies.
B. Of course everyone shares my opinion.
C. Of course I get to police other people’s self-expression.
… And also:
D. I cannot possibly look away if I see something I don’t like.

When we say it about ourselves, we’re really saying:

A. Of course bodies like mine are disgusting.
B. Of course everyone else has a right to enforce their likes and dislikes upon my body.
C. Of course I should be invisible.

By the way, I don’t mean to imply that the people who say this about others are necessarily giant flaming arse-hats. Every single person on the face of the planet, including myself, has prejudices.

It’s just that this one is still reflexively accepted. I’ve heard some of the kindest people I know say this very thing.

Hell, it only dawned on me when I was in the middle of saying this exact phrase maybe a year or so ago that it didn’t jive with the beliefs I’m trying to embody and that it was immensely problematic.

The interesting thing is that, since I’ve forced myself to stop saying it, I’ve discovered that, in fact, fat girls can look great and stylish in lycra (not that they have to look great and stylish; I don’t get to decide that, either), fat guys can rock mesh shirts, and so forth. It was my reflexive dismissal that kept me from recognizing that.

As someone with an immense degree of body privilege, I’m in a position that allows me to step in with authority when I hear someone I care about saying, “Nobody wants to see that.” (The trick is doing it without sounding like a self-righteous busybody).

The funny thing is that, when I have, the response has usually been pretty positive. People usually sort of stop and blink and go, “Huh. I hadn’t thought of it that way.” (On the other hand, I mostly know really thoughtful people. It isn’t always going to go that well, unfortunately.)

In the end, what we say to ourselves and to others impacts the way we see the world.

And, for what it’s worth, as a general rule, there is somebody who wants to see that — but neither they not the nay-sayers really matter.

What matters is how we see ourselves.

Allegiances, Language, and Space

Like the mad, socially-conscious Yankee intellectual I was raised to be, I often find myself thinking about language.

Specifically, I think about how to use words in ways that will be empowering, rather than disempowering; unifying, rather than divisive; kind, rather than unkind.

Sometimes, this gets sticky — especially when it comes to speaking with compassion as an ally.

Whether we realize it or not, privilege colors how people in the world hear the words we use: our privilege and lack thereof, as well as their privilege and lack thereof (note that I write “and,” not “or,” because privilege is not an absolute; most of us experience a mixture of privilege and its opposite). 

If I call myself queer, anyone who hears me brings internal nuance to the table.   Some will hear that I choose that word because I’ve internalized the homophobia of the culture that surrounds me; some, that I’m reacting against that homophobia through lexical reclamation; some, that I don’t fit crisply into other categories; some, that I can myself queer for reasons I haven’t even imagined.  All of them may be right or wrong at the same time and to varying degrees.

Few, however, will argue with my right to choose that word for myself (and I’m happy to kindly debate that point with those who would protest — we may never see eye-to-eye, but usually their intentions are good, and we can at least come to appreciate one anothers’ perspectives).

It gets trickier, though, when I’m talking about someone else.

Take, for example, the word fat.

Burlesque dancer Lillian Bustle makes the brilliant point that fat is just a word, like short or beautiful — other traits which Ms.  Bustle owns with pride.   It’s a word that can be detached from value judgment — unlike, for example, overweight, which by its very linguistic nature underscores the notion that there is a “right” weight, a “right” body size, outside of which people are wrong.  We don’t call tall people overheight, so why call fat people overweight? We’ve tried that, and it hasn’t reduced anti-fat prejudice one iota.   Why don’t we simply decouple the word fat from its harmful connotations?

I think Ms. Bustle makes a brilliant point.   I agree with her whole-heartedly.  I love her spirit of reclamation.  Her words were, in fact, instrumental in my process of beginning to deal with my own deeply-seated, deeply-denied fat phobia.

And yet.

And yet, as someone who lives in a body of the type that is currently privileged in our culture, I hesitate to fly that banner.

I’m carrying it, don’t get me wrong.  I’m happy to unfurl it when I’m pretty sure that I won’t cause further harm that way — but believe me, I look around first to make sure I’m not going to poke sometime in the eye.

In short, when a skinny person — especially a skinny guy, because there are extra layers of complexity associated with gender — uses the word fat to describe someone else, no matter how sound his intentions, he risks inflicting unintended pain.

Even if the subject of his words identifies as fat, even if she embraces that word, she probably still hears it used as an insult all the time (by analogy, someone like me, in my locale, might feel the same about the word fag). 

It can be hard to glean what someone’s intentions are, and even well-meaning people harbor unexamined prejudices.  So if I’m trying to describe someone to another person and I say, “He’s a tall, fat guy with curly hair and piano hands,” it’s possible that it’ll sound like I’m making a value judgment about body size, even if it’s a salient characteristic for identifying the person in question.

The fact that I’m a skinny dude makes it more likely, I suspect, that prejudice will be inferred.  That’s not unreasonable: inferences of that kind are generally based upon past experience, which is an imperfect predictor of future experience, but still the best one we have.  People of a socially-sanctioned body size probably are more likely to feel justified in using the word “fat” as an insult.

While I can’t control how other people hear me, the onus is upon me to try to words compassionately. It gets kind of weird, though, in territory that’s still in the earliest phases of reclamation.  It’s possible reduce harm by thinking before I speak, but there will still be misunderstandings.

I think it’s important to shake things up, linguistically speaking. 

It’s good to reclaim words; it takes tools out of the hands of oppressors without adopting oppression as a tool.  Likewise, it affords us freedom in identifying ourselves; in describing ourselves.  Perhaps most importantly, it often affords us a route away from formulations (non-white, overweight, non-traditional marriage) that, intentionally or otherwise, bear implications of compromised worth and reinforce the idea that average (or in the case of body size in the US, below average) is inherently better.  

Prefixes like non-, over-, and under- imply the existence of an accepted standard — and value judgment is inherent in all standards.   That’s the nature of standards, and that’s okay — when we’re talking about things that really benefit from being standardized, like astronomical measuring devices and medical equipment.  

Human beings, though?   Human worth is inherent.  While reality sometimes makes it difficult, we do justice to one-another when we use words that reflect that worth; words that don’t imply that one is less correct simply because one is in some way different from a group that has been designated as a standard.

But it’s not always easy to do, nor does it always come off without a hitch.  

The same can be said for wandering into safe spaces belonging to disenfranchised groups — the hierarchy of relative privilege gets sticky.  I’m not always sure how to manage that, either.

I suspect nobody is.   We all have the basics: listen, be compassionate, don’t be a jerk.   The devil, as always, is in the details. Sometimes, our best efforts still go awry.   Sometimes, we poke people in the eyes with the banners we’re unfurling in solidarity.

I guess, in the long run, this is a pretty good problem for a culture to have: a better one than that of knee-jerk prejudice and socially-sanctioned oppression (not that those are entirely gone, by any means).

I’m still working on all this stuff.   If I’m actually a good human being, I’m be working on it, with greater or lesser focus, til the day I die.

I like to think of this as a mitzvah — an extension of tikkun olam, repairing the world.   I can work to undo injustices I have done, and I can work with others to right injustices that began long before I was born.  I can look at that as an onerous duty or as a joy (hence the word mitzvah, literally “commandment” or “obligation,” but also an opportunity for human kindness, for justice, for celebration of the divine spark in ordinary things).

My efforts at likely to be flawed — after all, I’m human — but with successive approximations, I can improve not only my life, but the world around me …  without, I hope, giving out too many pokes in the eye.

The Message and the Means

A little while ago, one of my blog entries was Freshly Pressed (I’ll link to it shortly; I don’t want to ambush-link it, for reasons I’ll discuss below). I was surprised by this and, to be honest, also a little alarmed: oddly enough, although this blog is public and I know people might read it, it felt a little weird and exposed (in the sense that we use the word in choral music or ballet) to know that suddenly people absolutely and for certain were reading it. Especially since the post in question was one of the more sensitive ones.

I’m glad that that happened, though, because some of the discussion that resulted gave me the means to think about a part of the problem of bipolar — and of mental illness and of privilege, for that matter — that’s sort of been gnawing away at me in a way that I haven’t been able to quite figure out. This particular post is the direct result of sitting with and thinking about some of that discussion.

So the post in question dealt with some of the ways in which bipolar disorder has contributed to positive outcomes in my life that I might not have experienced without it.

Note that I’m not using the phrase “ways in which bipolar disorder has made my life better.” It hasn’t. It won’t.

Bipolar itself is kind of an ongoing train wreck that you have to learn to live with; to manage. It’s not necessarily a train wreck that is guaranteed to destroy your life forever (though in my case it’s taken, like, more than ten years to figure out how to keep the trains, like, more or less on the tracks and more or less running; let alone running on time), but it’s one that absolutely can and does destroy lives in very real and immediate senses, either temporarily or permanently.

As sometimes happens with all disasters, good things sometimes come out of the bad: you meet people you might not otherwise meet. You take a different path in life than you might have otherwise taken, and maybe something good happens.

The thing is, this shouldn’t, doesn’t, and can’t nullify the very real loss that comes with the experience of disaster (literally the breaking apart of the stars, you guys; I can’t think of a better way to describe the onset of bipolar than the cosmos being rent asunder).

Nor does it mean that everyone has this experience: for many of us, disaster is only disaster — and many of us don’t survive to experience anything beyond the disaster (let’s not get into debates about the afterlife right now, if that’s okay).

Because, here’s the thing: a lot of it comes down to luck.

I am the first to tell anyone, everyone around me that I am, in short, lucky. Immensely, unimaginably lucky.

I have had every advantage in the world.

I’m white enough to count, I’m male, I grew up in a wealthy family, I had mental-health insurance, I had access both to special schools for kids with mental illness and special schools for gifted kids, I’m gay but I’ve actually never really experienced any direct oppression about it, I’ve always had enough to eat, etc. My effort had little to nothing to do with all of that. It was just luck.

And, here’s the thing: even with all this luck, bipolar has still managed to screw my life up significantly for long periods of time and, to be honest, waste some gifts I wish I could have developed. It is still experientially hellish from time to time; it still costs me relationships; it still means I do stupid crap like forgetting to pay the house insurance bill for two months in a row, or whatever.

And the good things that I have in my life that I might not have had without bipolar I have because, you know, also luck (and also because, you know, tons of therapy and aforementioned every-advantage-on-earth, which devolve back upon luck).

I didn’t mean my post to be written in a way that would invalidate the experiences of others (and this is why I’ve chosen not to link it at the top: I’ll pop a link in at the bottom, in case you want to read it; I also welcome comments on how to maybe make it less triggery; less potentially-harmful).

I did think about that a bit when I was writing it: specifically, about articles and blog posts that make mental illness sound like a happy coincidence — a serendipitous walk in the park — without also explaining that, you know, there’s a very harsh reality that comes with any serendipity one might experience, and that just because one person experiences some degree of serendipity, that doesn’t mean others can or should. That’s the problem with serendipity: it’s random. It’s chance. We have no control over it.

I hope that the post in question doesn’t read like the articles I hate (to be honest, I’ve read very few of them; the only way in which I seem to be chronically unlucky in regard to bipolar disorder is that I always seem to wind up reading the most negative, grindingly-pessimistic articles about it known to man; OTOH, that might be better than constantly being faced with chirpy BS).

I am still considering what to do about it. I feel like, at very least, I should change the title, because the title alone is enough to make people feel invalidated, stressed out, and pressured — which, frankly, we get enough of already.

Bipolar is one of those conditions that (thanks in no small part to America’s total inability to educate its populace about anything complex) tends to be treated by the average person as a kind of spiritual laziness.

It’s not.

Neither I nor anyone I have ever known who lives with bipolar disorder would choose to live as we do. Some of us would like to be rid of bipolar altogether; some of us wouldn’t mind keeping some parts of it if we could get rid of the hellish ones (IMO, both approaches are valid; neither harms the world in any way). None of us would choose to destroy our relationships, educational and vocational pathways, and financial lives the way that we do when we’re ill.

Bipolar disorder is a neurological illness. Positive thinking won’t cure it. We cannot simply choose to be well. That’s not how this works; that’s not how any of this works (yes, levity is one of my many coping mechanisms). Positive thinking is a tool that can be helpful at some points, harmful at others — but it doesn’t cure bipolar disorder, that’s for sure.

Nor can those of us with bipor choose to see gifts where there are none. For some of us — for many of us — disaster is simply disaster, unmitigated.

And here’s the thing: those blog posts, those articles? The ones that talk about disaster just being disaster?

People are writing them.

But they’re not getting Freshly Pressed.

Those articles, those posts, aren’t getting published on Huffington Post (which apparently hosted one particularly egregious article about bipolar being awesome; one I haven’t read, and hadn’t even heard of until I wrote the post I discussed above — I’m going to chalk this up to luck as well).

Those experiences are genuine experiences of mental illness, real voices that Need. To. Be. Heard. They are the experiences that are pretty much universal to mental illness: that’s why it’s called mental illness, because it’s suffering, it’s hard.

And they’re not being heard, and it’s not because they’re not writing — not because they’re not out there speaking, or singing, or creating poems, or dancing it out.

It’s because our culture (at least in the United States) admires “positive thinking” to a degree that’s actually kind of unhealthy.

It’s because posts like mine can be seen as a justification of several major cultural paradigm — be grateful; think positively; if you just work hard enough everything will turn out fine — even when their authors do not intend them to be.

It’s because, frankly, people who aren’t living with mental illness mostly don’t want to hear those messages.

(Or at least, that’s kind of how it looks from where I’m standing.)

The thing is, we need to hear those messages.

We need, in short, to know how bad it really is.

Until we know how bad it really is — how hard real, actual individual human beings; actual people, for G-d’s sake — have it, and that they are freaking well trying with every bone in their bodies, or have tried until there is no more try (because, honestly, it’s okay to give up; it’s okay to not try sometimes!) — until all of this happens, nothing, nothing is going to change.

Here’s a fact: a long time before I was born, institutions were pretty horrible places to be (not to say they’re never horrible now; but they were, on average, more universally horrible back in the day). People didn’t know that, though, because the people in institutions didn’t have voices in the culture around them.

They had lives and stories to tell, but there was no internet back then; no way for them to easily get their stories out into the world except maybe by escaping and, frankly, nobody was going to listen to someone who escaped from a mental hospital.

Then a few reporters starting taking major risks on their behalf to go into some of these institutions and bring out footage: footage that showed how bad things were on the inside; how actual living human beings were suffering in totally needless ways.

That footage, the stories that come out of that, reached people’s hearts and helped spark some real changes (admittedly, they’re not changes that have always worked out too well: we kind of dismantled a broken system but didn’t replace it with a working one, which has left a lot of people with disabilities SOL — but that’s a post for another time).

Things only changed because people started seeing the problem as a human problem: an us problem, instead of a them problem.

The cool part is that, nowadays, we have the internet, and not as many locked institutions, and it’s much easier for those of us living and struggling with mental illness to tell our stories. We don’t have to get other people to speak up for us; we’re already speaking up for ourselves.

The hard part is still getting our voices heard.

This is the part where “typical” people — people who aren’t living with mental illness, or who at least aren’t living with debilitating mental illness (because things like dysthymia are real and suck in their own ways, but don’t always prevent one from participating in the dominant culture quite as effectively as, say, bipolar or schizophrenia do) come in.

For better or worse, there’s still a kind of gatekeeper thing going on, where people who are more successful at doing what’s expected in our culture kind of get to decide which voices are going to get heard.

I don’t know how to help the gatekeepers see that posts like mine aren’t the only ones they should put out there; in fact, that posts like mine kind of aren’t even the important ones.

Because, frankly, we’ve heard the “overcoming” or “good coming from bad” kind of story over and over again; we’ve heard it so often that it’s reached the level of cultural mythos.

It’s time to put the hard stories out there.

We have the message. We just need to have the means.

So that’s it for now. As always, I hope this post hasn’t stepped on anyone’s toes. At least, if I have stepped on your toes in this post, please know that it wasn’t intentional, and I’m sorry to have caused you pain.

Same goes for my other post. Sooner or later I’ll figure out what to do about it, and how. I’m still thinking about it.

Edit: Oh, yeah. I guess I promised you a link, so here it is. Opens in a new tab.

I Don’t Think This Is Quite What Our Grandmothers Had In Mind

Let me begin by saying I’m a dude who grew up in something as close as possible to a parallel universe: a house full of strong women with a female breadwinner (an executive at a large utility company); divorced parents who got along brilliantly; a father who really saw women as equals, who valued friendships with women (including his ex-wife, my Mom) immensely.  In short, a reality where equality between the sexes was a reality.

I sort-of got that sexism was a thing, and at the same time, I didn’t really see it in action.   I kind of labored under the delusion that sexism was over, or that it only happened in far-away places — other countries, maybe. Or maybe Texas?

I’m sure now (because hindsight is 20/20) that my Mom and my Grammy and my sister experienced it: in fact, we all do. The extent of my exposure, as a kid, came in this sort of vague knowledge that my sister got picked on for being bigger than other kids in a way that boys her size didn’t — and even that, I only figured out in retrospect.

Well, and then there were the weird messages conveyed by TV shows. Oh, and road signage*.

*Seriously, when I was little, I was eternally mad about the fact that the standard “school crossing” sign was a big brother ferrying a little sister across the road — why not the other way ’round? Girls were just as good at ferrying little siblings as boys!

Anyway, we were busy, free-ranging, book-crazed kids, outdoors at least as often as we were indoors — but we did watch some TV.

I remember being annoyed by ads that divided up toys along strict gender lines (who says girls didn’t play with Hot Wheels, or boys with My Little Pony?) and I remember being really, really annoyed by the theme song to James Bond, Jr., which included the line “… As he rescues the girl!”

The part of me that was semi-aware of such things was like, “Hello, this is the 90s, probably ‘the girl’ can take care of herself!” I’m not sure if that was actually a kind of an in-joke and The Girl in question did more rescuing than Mr. Bond Jr., because the show didn’t have any talking animals on it, so I wasn’t interested.

Anyway.   So I was aware of gender issues, but in this very limited kind of way founded on the idea (common to lids in general) that the foundations of my world were just like everyone else’s, and that everyone was equipped with the same set of tools that let my sister and me roll our eyes and call bull when we spotted something obviously sexist.

So basically, grown-up life has been a long series of little shocks in which I’ve realized that, yes, sexism is still a huge thing (and not just in other far-off countries like Texas), and that it’s a big thing, and that it’s a subtler thing than I ever could have guessed. Oh, and that not everyone is equipped to see it or fight it.

For many women, I suspect this is definitely an eye roll moment: “Like, duh, hello?  Of course it’s a thing!”

I’m right there with you: I feel like there’s a lot I should have seen sooner; a lot I still don’t see, probably**.

**Weirdly, ballet is one heck of an effective mirror for male privilege, because dudes are kind of like unicorns in the ballet world, and even a marginally-talented unicorn gets a ton of attention and encouragement (everyone likes to have unicorns around!).  

It amazes me that insecure straight dudes aren’t flocking to ballet class in droves.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, has made me more aware of my own privilege as a male (let alone as an able, conventionally-attractive male) like ballet has.

Like most kids from privileged-yet-socially-liberal backgrounds, I’ve also been raised with the assumption that, as a society, we’re making progress — we’re moving forward; that the general trajectory of the course of history (occasional backpedaling notwithstanding), in relation to human rights, is forward.

In a sense, we are: take, for example, the huge cultural conversation about sexual assault on college campuses***.

***Though, for now, let’s leave out the other side of that coin: the side that asks, “But young people get raped just as much or more in places that aren’t bastions of privilege; where’s the uproar about that?” That’s an incredibly important problem, but it’s also a different post.

Not that long ago — a heartbeat ago, on the scale of history — that conversation couldn’t have happened. The straight male voices that dominated cultural discourse would’ve said, “Ha! This is nothign but a bit of hysteria. You little ladies should get back to your Early Childhood Education studies and leave the big problems to us men.”

Now we can talk about it, an we are talking about it.

And that conversation has been revelatory: particularly, it has revealed how utterly blind a lot of dudes are to their role in the problem. And while a lot of them have predictably been public asshats about it, some have woken up and said, “Holy crap, I am part of this problem.”

Most importantly, though, women have stood up to speak, and are still standing even after some pretty intense efforts at shouting them down, and that’s a fine thing****.

****Never mind that some campuses have responded with bass-ackwards “Don’t go out at night if you don’t want to get assaulted” policies.

Like, seriously, people? THIS IS 2015. We should all know by now that that isn’t how it works.

So we’re making progress there, by fits and starts.

Yet, at the same time, in other ways, it feels like we’re going backwards.

A case study:

A while back, after the bazillionth ad for hair dye or straightener or something during some TV show I want watching, I said something to Denis about how it seemed like everyone always wanted whatever kind of hair they didn’thave, and that I felt lucky that I was happy with mine.

And then I realized, wait — this is sexism in action. It’s capitalism feeding on sexism; on the kind of sexism that makes women feel like they’re never good enough the way they are, no matter what.

This whole snowball is about insecurity: all these ads were aimed at women, and they all began with the assumption that if you were blonde, you should want to be brunette so guys would think you were smart and mysterious or something and want you, and if you were brunette, you should be blonde so guys would think you were vivacious and fun or something and want you, and if you were somewhere in the middle, you should maybe go full ginger, because everyone knows gingers are unpredictable force-of-nature sexy vixens and guys love that.

And I realized that I am more or less satisfied with my hair because I’m a guy,and I don’t have an entire culture and all my friends telling me I should try some other color or maybe get a perm*****.

******Not to say there’s anything wrong with dying your hair: IMO, your body is no less valid a canvas for self-expression than a canvas that you can hang on the wall is. But that’s not why something like 90% of the women at school have the same highlights; the same dye job. That’s culture telling people how to look, which is the antithesis of self-expression. Where I live, in the Northern Southern Eastern Midwest, the idea is to be blonde.

We’ve reached a point now where guys are starting to do this stuff, too: eating disorders in men are on the rise (when I was 13, I was an anomaly as an anorexic dude; not even a blip on the cultural radar; now, the problem is noticeable enough that there have been a few documentaries about it), etc.

In one sense, maybe that’s a good thing: it says that men are at last beginning to be subject to the same market pressures as women, if on a much smaller scale.

Let’s face it, dudes: ladies who are shaped in any way differently than the whatever the culture has deemed correct take way, way more flack than men who are equally divergent. Likewise, while we guys may catch a little more flack when it comes to making career choices that are aimed at giving us more family time (as opposed to more money), women are more than compensated there with an exceptionally heavy load of cultural crap-flinging no matter what they choose.

Here’s the thing: while we’ve upped the market pressures on ourselves, we’ve also upped the pressures on the women. I suspect that “good enough” has never been good enough for women in our culture — but now it kind of looks like maybe even perfect isn’t good enough.

If you’re a fast-track career woman but not Supermom-cum-Wonderwife, it’s not like our culture says, “Ohai, you’re doing great, actually!”

Instead, it’s all, “Yeah, well, Angelina Jolie has a zillion well-adjusted kids and a high-powered career and still finds time to bake all-organic quinoa crisps.”  (Helpfully leaving out that Jolie can afford to pay someone else to do the marketing or watch the kids and can afford to take the rest of her life off if she so chooses.)

Meanwhile, dudes still practically win the Nobel Peace Prize whenever they manage to heat up a frozen pot pie without also burning down the house, because LOLz, cooking for the fam is totally still for chicks******.

******Yeah, I know plenty of amazing, involved family men who would see how this insults both them and the women in their lives — but it’s still a cultural reality, QV every household products ad ever, and this presents problems for everyone. Again, there’s an important thing going on there, but it deserves its own treatment.

So, in short, we’re still a long way from equal, around here. And I’m pretty sure that’s not what our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were after.

What I’ve learned by being a dude, but also a gay dude, is that having privilege is (rather aptly) just like being a fish in water: you have no idea that you’re surrounded by it, buoyed up, floating in it, until you encounter some air-breather that’s caught a toe in some seaweed and is struggling and going, “Holy crap, how can you not see why I’m drowning, here?  This stuff is everywhere!”

And, then, what you do with that information is up to you. You can either help an air-breather out or you can go, “I don’t see what the problem is; I’m breathing just fine.”

Only, like, that analogy can only go so far, because we also make the water, and (after a period of adjustment) we’d be okay without it. Those of us who already hold a fair bit of privilege have a lot to say about which way the culture turns — that is, whether it’s a place that’s harmful to air-breathers, or a place where both air-breathers and those of us who can choose to breathe water or air can both live.

So now I keep an eye out for my own privilege, because it’s up to me to not be that guy.

Yeah, this gets weird and difficult sometimes: like, when I realize that as a boy from the frenetic Northeast, my entire conversational style makes it really hard for a girl from the South or Midwest to get a word in edgewise. But part of being a grown-up and wearing my big-boy trousers is learning how to handle a little discomfort.

I can back myself down, listen more patiently, and so forth. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that girls from the South can’t also adapt to different conversational styles: they can and do, but it’s still my job to meet them in the middle and to figure out what I’m doing wrong.

That’s part of what being equal is about: I don’t get to feel like my way is the only right way. I don’t always have to agree with the way other people do things, but I do have to give them full consideration.

So basically I feel like we’ve got a long way to go — and I think that every inch of progress we make along that way actually makes the world a better place for women and for men.

As for that golden future the Feminists of earlier generations envisioned: I used to think we were already there.

Now I know we’re not.

I also know that while women probably can move ask the mountains to get us there entirely on their own, they flat-out shouldn’t have to.

It’ll be a lot easier for everyone and better if we guys wake up, smell the privilege, roll up our sleeves, and help out (after all, we built those stupid mountains that are in the way).

So, um, I hope this is all okay. When I stated writing this, I thought I knew what I was saying, but it got away from me (like, you know, every blog entry in the history of ever).

Anyway, here I am, and here’s my shovel, and I hope I can help move these mountains, because I’m realling looking forward to dancing together on the other side.

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