Friday, 18 February 2011

We Are The Whole Elephant

In a forum I belong to, I recently read this post:

I’m soo tired of it all…

I’m tired of the jeers
I’m tired of the comments
I’m tired of the stupid questions
I’m tired of the personal invasion
I’m tired of the ignorance
I’m tired of the judgments
I’m tired of the assumptions
I’m tired of the shaving
I’m tired of the tucking
I’m tired of the violence
I’m tired of the rudeness
I’m tired of the creepy sexual advances
I’m tired of the fetishists
I’m tired of the discrimination
I’m tired of the stupid rules society makes
I’m tired of the mocking
I’m tired of it all

And a later post:

"sorry this didn’t come off as rage filled as it is… the thing is I know I’m awesome I don’t give a fuck 99% of the time BUT everyday I get 15-30 negative comments and abusive words thrown at me, plus the tittering and laughing as I walk past, and the mockery and dumb questions somedays I feel like Atlas with this goddamn planet on my shoulder crushing me slowly!"

This resonated so painfully with me that I had to put it on the back burner for a while, to let the memories that evoked the pain surface.

It was written by a transperson, but I had always read her posts as written by an interesting woman – I must have missed the threads where she mentioned being trans.

Anyway, I had no trouble assimilating this new information about her into what I already knew. And if we ever meet face to face, I think I will be able to add her appearance to my earlier impressions of her, and be happy that I now know more about the whole person.

And that brings me to the whole elephant. The “we” in the title is not a royal or Margaret Thatcher “we”, but a “we who are beyond the Pale”.

As a child I overheard adults say in hushed tones that someone was Beyond The Pale, and my mind’s eye immediately saw this person disappearing into a white mist and becoming invisible. And isn’t that what happens when we show things that mostpeople* don’t want to see?

Remember the story about the wise men who thought that the whole elephant was the bit that they touched?

It is so easy for mostpeople, those who are comfortable within their Palisades, to see what they want to see and disappear the rest. I don’t think we can change them, but we can help each other see when we are being made invisible – and share in the carrying of the goddamn planet, maybe?

I’ve done my own share of planet-carrying, but my main problem is that I look so … average. I look like any old fat little granny with her hair in a bun, and never get jeers or comments in the streets. But when words come out of my mouth that don’t fit my exterior, I can see people grabbing hold of something I say and wondering what this weird snake-shaped thing is. Sometimes they’re so busy holding on to their fixed image of me that my words never register with them.

I’ll give an example from way back when I was much younger: I was staying with my sister when a fellow student of hers came to give her a message, and he sat down and waited for her. He was working on a thesis on communication, a subject that because of my 3CK background always has interested me. We had a long and fascinating discussion … until he asked what I was studying, and I said: “Nothing. I translate romance novels”.

My IQ must have plummeted 150 points in his mind. After a stony silence, the next thing he said was: “You probably won’t understand this, but …”

Sis came shortly after this, and he gave her his message and shot out of there. And she asked: “What did you do to him? I’ve never seen him look so scared!”

What did I do? He didn’t just look scared, he looked aggrieved, as if I’d deliberately misled him. Littleoldgrannyme would probably just have asked why he suddenly started treating me as if I were stupid, but I was busy having a post-traumatic stress reaction at the time, because similar things had happened to me all my life: People rejected information I showed them that didn’t fit their impressions or prejudices.

I told some friends about this, and they recognized the situation: “When you’re in the middle of an interesting political discussion, and people ask what you do, ‘sheep farming’ can cause a dramatic drop in IQ.”

In the grannybun stage of my life, I have come to the conclusion that communication is never neutral. Never static.

It can be constructive, in that we constantly add to our knowledge of others by relating to what they show and assimilating it. And it can be destructive, if our perceptions are filtered through prejudice: “What I don’t know about you doesn’t exist.”

And like so many other things in life, it’s a matter of responsibility and choice: All of us own what we do, even if we don’t realizing that what we are doing is harmful.

Winding down and stepping off the soapbox now.
Do you have any Atlas experiences you want to share?

* Borrowed from E.E. Cummings’ “I, Six Nonlectures”. Sincerely recommended!

1 comment:

As the Vulcans say: "I rejoice in our differences". Comments, questions and differing opinions are welcome.

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