On Being in a Different Place

| Thursday, June 11, 2015
*dusts off blog*

This poor neglected blog. I'm sorry I did you wrong, little blog. Anyhow.

It's been a wild year. As you can clearly see from the last time I updated, WNDB was just taking off, and what followed was a whirlwind. That's another story, though. You've all been around, you know how it's going. I hope, anyway!

This is a personal post about the last year of my life as I got more involved in the discussion surrounding "diversity" (scare quotes on purpose, more on that in a minute) and intersectionality and activism and "being an ally" (more scare quotes on purpose, details soon) and everything else that has been rolling around in my brain for the last 12+ months. Opinions contained herein are mine and mine alone.

Image by Luis Llerena

First point of business and important fact I learned very quickly, despite already doing this stuff for years: the diversity discussion is enormous. There is so much -- so much to learn, so much to understand, so much to talk about, so much to do. It is this vast, unending galaxy that goes in every feasible direction for a billion light years or more. There are more nuances and variances of opinion even within advocate circles than there are stars in the sky. The exploration and quest for action will never end, and that's both exciting and terrifying. Exciting because, much like the science fiction I love so much, it often opens up this sense of hope and looking forward. Terrifying because the vastness of the uncharted is daunting as hell. Walking on a path with no end is scary, exhausting shit.

There's also this persistent, irritating, endlessly frustrating fact: no matter how far you get and how much you acknowledge there are still endless miles to go, there will be people who are at the beginning of the path and yelling at you to help them find a shortcut. There will be people who aren't interested in the path at all and just like to heckle your attempt at moving forward. There are people on paths that branch out from yours, and you're moving similar distances, but on different levels, which is completely fine but occasionally causes collisions when your paths cross in a bad place.

This metaphor is getting weird, sorry.

Suffice to say that it's hard to be at a certain place in your personal journey toward learning and absorbing this stuff while also having to deal with people who are just learning the terminology or that X thing even exists. On the one hand, you want them to do the work -- they need to do the work. You want them to understand the things you already know to be true. On the other hand, you know that people aren't born knowing this stuff, that it takes A LOT of challenging and unlearning internalized bullshit, and you want to help. Well, you want to help the ones who aren't heckling whiny jerkbags, anyway.

Which is why "diversity" is such a troubling, weird, all-inclusive, generic term. It's shorthand, and you know it isn't good enough, that it doesn't encompass the right nuance and breadth of knowledge, but it's the best way you know to refer to this stuff. It's a term people at all levels can understand. Even so, it's endlessly frustrating in its simplicity. People can reduce it to a buzzword, a "trend," a pithy term to throw at anything from the most basic attempt toward diversification to every single possible marginalization. It's not good enough for the specific or more advanced discussion, but it's the easiest way to have the conversation without a thousand caveats.

The thing is, those caveats are vital, too. I recently saw a tweet that really resonated with me:

As well as this one:

These are fair, honest points. The discussion is getting louder, yes, but over time it does feel like the nuance and intersectionality gets lost. People are concerned that the discussion becomes focused on one specific area of diversity (race, for example) without incorporating other intersections. And this is, I feel, a symptom of a lot of the audience still being in the "baby steps" stage of the discussion. It's too big a conversation for a general panel or roundtable. The discussions have to branch off and become more dialed-in to specific experience, with specific representation.

However, at the same time, we're still dealing with the overhanging issue of people not being ready for the deeply nuanced discussion because they're still at the 101 level. Over here, we have a large group who're ready to move on, dig deeper, and go further -- they're tired of repeating the basics ad nauseum. Over there, we have a group who're still at the beginning of the path and want those basics conveyed in easy-to-digest (and a lot of times, frankly, easy-to-hear) ways.

And so, I tend toward the side that says it's about a variety of conversations branching out and happening simultaneously. Some will take on the basics, others will take on the complex. The problem is trying to straddle both at once. No one can be everything to all people, and even though sucks when you want to be and can't cut it, it's not possible, nor should you try. It's okay for us as individuals not to be The One Answer. This is such a huge job, with so many valid and varied stances and needs.

We talk about wanting there to be room for everyone at the table, and sometimes I think those of us who are really invested in this think we can take it all on and be the person who makes it happen -- whether out of altruism or ego, both can happen -- but the world is just too big. So we work together and apart, we listen, we learn, we agree, we disagree, we push on. We focus on areas where we're strong and fight to help up others who are fighting to have their own voices heard. We use our privilege responsibly. We keep going.

I'm not personally fond of the term "ally" as a self-identifier (I told you I'd get to this), because again... it's all too big, and I don't know everything. I do my best to educate, work, and stand up, but it never feels like enough to me. I always aim to constantly expand and learn while seeking different stances, but in the end, I'm really just a person who's doing my best not to be an asshole to other marginalized people. It is, in my opinion, the bare minimum I can do.

I'm also not one to get all group-love-and-togetherness, really, and even among like-minded people, there will be differences in priorities, opinions, and focus. Still, we do what we can and work with what we've got, and we listen to each other, and I think that's at least good, solid standing ground. We don't have to agree on every approach, we don't even have to always like each other, and we don't all have to have the same goals.

We just have to be working toward something better while acknowledging that there's more than one way to do that, and that there's no one-size-fits-all.

And then we have to acknowledge that it's not that simple and it's always going to be complex and hard, but that's fine, too. Such is life.

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