I’ve been quietly reading reactions people are having regarding the Orlando massacre for the last few days. I’ve been quiet about the subject, here and elsewhere, for a whole hosts of reasons. I’ve been seeing people react to being told they should be silent, that their voices are not those that need to be heard, and I’ve watched them struggle (and often fail) to understand *why* that’s being said. I’ve seen people chide those same groups of people for being silent, and nothing better can illustrate the fact that no single demographic will agree on every point, and if we try to please everyone, if we try to do things perfectly, we will always be frustrated, we will always fail.
We need to allow ourselves to blunder, to make mistakes, to look like fools. We need to not be afraid of what we don’t know. We need to allow having empathy to matter more than being right/heard/understood.
I’ve watched this unfold from a safe place of privilege. Sure, I’m female, but I’m white. Sure, I’m bisexual, but I live in a place where that’s really not a problem. Sure, I’m in a religious minority, but again, white. Sure, it’s a terrible tragedy, it’s awful, it’s wretched, but hey, when I’m overwhelmed by it, I can close my social media, I can step back, I can disengage. My people are safe. My tribe is safe. Oh, they’re hurting, they’re in mourning, but they are physically safe — never mind that that safety is an illusion that I, once again, have the privilege to believe in.
There are two things that have helped me, have guided me, in my work to understand privilege, how I have it, how it works, and how to respond in various situations. Two things that, as I’m reading and watching people call for voices to be lifted up, for voices to be heard, and as I’m watching those with privilege struggle and fail at understanding how their privilege works, dealing with why their voices don’t necessarily belong in all spheres at all times — a statement that is often met with resistance because it’s never been challenged before — and as I’m watching discussions get derailed because more people of privilege once again need to have their privilege explained to them, and how is this not a prime example of this is not the place or time or the job of those grieving?? — two things that I think could be of use as guides of compassion and ettiquette in general.
First, is Susan Silk’s Ring Theory. This is an easy fit in this situation, because we’re dealing with huge grief and privilege guilt at the same time, so maybe use this as a guide as to who to talk to about what, and what not to say around whom. Not because your feelings don’t matter, not because my feelings don’t matter, but because other people’s feelings and experiences are more relevant, are more connected to the situation, and simply matter more.
When I first came across the Ring Theory a few years back, it was a tool that immediately helped my understand what to do with the guilt I often feel because of my privilege.Not it’s intended purpose, perhaps, but I’m all about using what works. This is a guide of right action, a guide for right speech. It is not the place of people who are close to tragedy to help those of us further removed cope with our own grief, frustration, hopelessness, etc. It is not up to them to explain to us why unchecked privilege is a part of why such a terribly thing could have happened. It is not their job to make us understand why class, why transphobia and homophobia was a part of this, and why the way we are as a society allows for such things to breed unchallenged, or why in so many outlets race is being downplayed, or why minority groups are being pitted against each other. The onus is on us to understand these things, to allow ourselves to feel vulnerable and in the wrong, and sure, fuck yes, guilty as all hell for benefiting from a society that privileges us — but don’t let that guilt swallow you. Let it fuel you. Let it direct you. And let it bind your tongue when others whose experiences matter more in these situations, let it drive home that not all voices matter equally in all situations.
The other thing that has helped me, again as a guide, has been Craig Ferguson’s wisdom (stop laughing) from his “three things” clip. Now, this was meant as poking fun at relationships, and how to survive marriages, but really I think it’s sound advice, and these two things taken together have been a good compass for me for the last couple of years.
I want people to know that I’m here, that I support them, that I mourn with them — but my voice of “me too, me too, me me me!!” is not what needs to be heard. Support is action. Support is giving time or money or blood, it’s writing to your senators and other officials, it’s doing what you can, whatever you can, to make changes happen. It’s challenging the abuse of others because of their differences. It’s challenging homophobic and transphobic attitudes when you come across them. It’s speaking up for others, and it’s listening when others are speaking. My voice matters, because everyone’s voice matters, but my voice does not matter equally in this situation, and so I’ve been keeping quiet. Mourning, heart-sick, and terrified for our future, but quiet, just the same.
Anyway. I hope this post is of use to some people. Be well.