The beauty of getting over oneself

During my first month of college, a friend and I were discussing the recent passage of the Defense of Marriage Act. Both of us were squarely against it and thought it was clearly unconstitutional. At the same time, neither of us were necessarily really eager to have gay marriage thrust into the national political discussion. Budding little pragmatist, we thought it wasn't strategically appropriate. We didn't really disagree with gay marriage, we just thought it'd be much better if the gays would not be asking for it just yet. Why, if they just wait a bit, cultural change is on their side. Its going to happen eventually, so why press?

We were wrong. I was wrong.

The simple fact is, I wasn't ready. I wasn't there yet. So I hid behind strategy as I clung to what I thought marriage was since I was a kid. When I was 18, I had a really weird collection of beliefs. I was an avowed agnostic and eager young progressive, but I still had some oddly traditionalist notions about marriage. I was in no danger of being thought a reactionary or anything, but for some reason I thought it was worthwhile to wait to have sex until marriage. For the record, this was 100% due to a lack of opportunity as I would later quickly learn and which frankly I had already violated anyway. I may have known I didn't want my future wife to take my last name, but I still presumed marriage was the natural conclusion of a romantic relationship. Well, for straight people, anyway. I knew it couldn't be justified to deny gays and lesbians the institution of marriage, but I just wasn't there yet.

I'm not sure when I did. At some point in the coming years, I softened on the strategy and then hardened on recognizing the indefensible injustice. I don't think it took very long and I have no reservations now saying that what I believed then was completely wrong. No matter how pragmatic I thought I was being, strategy can't trump injustice. Wrong is wrong.

I may not know when I turned a corner on this, but I can tell you why I did. Its because I kept listening to gays and lesbians making their point about fighting for gay marriage. Which, to be fair, wasn't a settled issue in the gay community then or now, though I quickly recognized that the resistance from gays was entirely on principle with very little of my strategy bullshit. And I respected the points being made about questioning the institution of marriage altogether, but I found myself firmly believing that if there was marriage, there must be equality. There simply was no reasonable compromise. Marriage inequality was not just and it had to end.

I got there because I listened. I also kept my mouth shut about not being there yet. I didn't expect gay rights activists to have to answer to my equivocation. I don't expect them to change course because I wasn't on board yet. It was my own responsibility to get over myself, not theirs. If I did speak up, though, I'd hope I'd have been challenged. I hope people wouldn't have put up with that bullshit in the name of being nice or catering to potential allies. Social justice isn't practiced like a high-class philanthropic fundraiser where the potential donors and wined and dined in the hopes they open their check books. Its practiced by speaking out and standing for something. Allies are gained by challenging them to think differently, not figuring out what they'll stand for. Social justice isn't about the lowest common denominator.

I've struggled on other issues since and I usually keep my mouth shut when I know I just need to get over myself. More importantly, I try to respect when I'm challenged. There has been a lot of talk recently of the "presumption of bad faith" in feminist circles where allies get written off for mistakes. I share a lot of the apprehension about this and its generally speaking not something I agree with, but I still respect it. Bottom line, there are lines that shouldn't be crossed. Maybe I don't draw the lines in the same places as others, but I believe in the principal of what they are doing. I think most in progressive communities would. Even if I'm not with them now, I'm glad they are pushing for what they believe in. Maybe I'll be there with them in a few years. Maybe not. We NEED people pushing the boundaries, though. No matter how much we want to be a big happy family, progressive change doesn't necessarily happen because all progressives find what little they'll agree with. I feel that more often than not, change has happened because people didn't back down from saying things people didn't want to hear. Even if I don't agree with them, I'm absolutely glad these people are taking a stand. Not in some pandering "but I'll defend your right to belief" way, either. I'm not defending their right to be wrong, I'm defending their right to be RIGHT. If someone is pushing me to be MORE progressive and MORE understanding, that's a good thing. We're not talking about people dressing up the status quo in progressive garb, we're talking about people demanding real, radical change and that's not just something I respect its something I celebrate.

An excess of good faith can be pretty hostile to communities, too. When repeated bad behavior is tolerated in the name of playing nice, it pushes people away that progressive communities need in the name of comforting people who keep lobbing spitballs. For me, I find a balance by being willing to write someone off conditionally. I think this is something fat activists do a lot as I don't feel like our community really gets the privilege to take strong stands against "allies" who attack us. When a fellow progressive I generally respect and admire starts getting into anti-fat acceptance, pro-fat shaming garbage, I have no problem just writing them off on the subject. When an "ally" starts lecturing me about what fat acceptance needs to do to get them on board, I just don't care. I have no problem compartmentalizing someone as a total fucking asshole on fat acceptance, but with pretty good ideas otherwise. I've talked in the past about doing this in pop culture, but I practice the same thing with politics. There are some big-name progressive bloggers who I just groan when I see they've decided to offer some reactionary screed about how awful fat people are while demanding recognition for they totally aren't shaming fat people. There are others I know are perpetually half-way there, saying some really spot-on stuff, and then some real bull-shit. I'm fine with that. I'm fine with calling them out as an asshole about fat issues, but otherwise appreciating what they have to say. I hope one day, they can get over themselves on fat issues. Until then, I'm not going to coddle them just because I agree with them otherwise, but I'm also not going to throw out everything else they have to say. If they fashion themselves as some sort of anti-fat acceptance crusader, well, that'll just mean I'll have more to object to. If they something right every once and a while, it still won't excuse it. And if they are right most of the time, but indulge in fat shaming periodically, I may not have to object much, but I still will.

This is my way of dealing with this, though. I don't think its necessarily right, but its the balance that works for me. Some might label this as being forgiving or being an apologist. Good for them. Seriously. If I want to take a stand for what I believe in, I've got to be on board when others do the same. If for them, it works to just write some off completely, that's great. I respect that. Not as in, "I grudgingly tolerate that" but as in "I genuinely admire their conviction". I may not agree. I'm sure I'll find myself getting called out, too. I have to assume there are issues of privilege I have not educated myself on. That's how privilege works. I try, but there are things where I won't have gotten over myself yet. I hope no one ever feels pressured to give me or anyone else a benefit of the doubt they don't care to give. If you call me out in the name of the status quo, don't expect my respect, but if you push me to be more progressive, you absolutely have it. More importantly, I imagine you won't give a fuck about my "respect" if I need to get over myself. I sure wouldn't feel like giving a fuck if the roles were reversed. Expecting someone to get over themselves isn't a lot to ask. It isn't a lot to expect. No one should ever have to apologize or defend themselves for demanding that other people get over themselves. More often than not, its the least we can ask for.

1 comment:

Jan said...

Have enjoyed reading your post. It has given me something to think about.
I am learning to get over myself at the moment. Slowly getting there. lol

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