It's funny. I thought that becoming an activist, in some ways, meant that by virtue of doing work to raise awareness, generate discussion, and build community, that a sticks-and-stones kind of approach to ignorance would overtake me. That I'd just be more or less immune to ignorant comments, that I could just brush it off and never think about it again because damnit, I'm helping DO SHIT about it.
This isn't true, I'm coming to find.
A few weeks ago, I was taking a summer course, and was trying to do some group work. Someone asked a question about whether an individual was male or female, and no one knew. One member of the group, in a moment of silliness, remarked that maybe they were neither since we didn't know - maybe they were a "heshe"!
Now, I have a particularly strong dislike of using terms like "heshe" and "shim," unless someone wishes to identify as those things themselves. But that's not what this was really about. This was about me just sitting there nerding out, trying to get some work done, and being shocked into remembering that my body is not quite like everyone else's, and the popular view is that this is something funny and peculiar, and acceptable to make light of when fancy strikes. This is about the fact that others laughed, oh-how-ridiculous-you-are, although the fact that I was sitting there debating whether or not to challenge this statement was proof that this heshe thing isn't a joke, and seriously misrepresents the biology of intersex individuals, transgender individuals, and others who are not sex-and/or-gender normative. That using this term morphs my very-normal-to-me body into some sort of mythical creature in the context of the conversation. (Which I guess isn't out of question when you think of the Greek mythical roots of the old term "hermaphrodite," really.)
I was uncomfortable. The fact that that happened, that we're living in a time when many people don't know that throwing around terms like this is actually offensive, deflated me a bit. And that confused me. Wasn't I supposed to just rise above this and let their words bounce off to me and stick to...something, or however the hell the sticks-and-stones thing goes? Yes, it will take time to raise awareness so that others know about intersex, what it is, what that means, what is being done to our bodies without consent, how we stop this, how we love ourselves and respect all bodies and beings as they are. I don't expect that all people know about intersex now. But why did this bum me out so much?
I think the fact that I've become open talking about intersex, generating discussion, thinking about how intersex relates to lots of other issues, it's become so incorporated in my everyday radar that it shocked me a little bit into remembering - oh yeah, not everyone is thinking about this after all. I think it can be easy to talk to other activists and read activist blogs and have something be a big part of your life to the point that it's hard to remember that many people out there do not know A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G. about intersex. Part of raising awareness is being able to start at square one, with the most fundamental concepts, and be able to start a dialouge about that, and you can't do that if you're always thinking about larger perspectives that stem from that foundational knowledge. Remembering that intersex is absolutely nowhere near someone's radar is really important.
I think, too, that my becoming really invested in raising awareness and ending abuse has made these experiences more acutely painful in some ways. When you work really hard to do something, and you are able to raise awareness in a small space, among several people, in a defined locale, it's wonderful. It can also be shocking, though, to leave those spaces and realize how many people are out there that haven't received such messages, have not had these conversations. It can be staggering and overwhelming to think, "How many are there out there that must be reached?" It can make you feel small and wonder what exactly how and if your work is reaching others.
You know what though? I think the most important thing I learned is that it's GOOD that I had a strong emotional reaction to this. The sticks-and-stones thing makes sense on a theoretical level, but even if I become more USED to encountering others that unknowingly make ignorant statements about people with atypical (and NORMAL! <3) bodies, I don't actually WANT to become entirely IMMUNE to such attitudes and perspectives. Because the ability to react, to feel something, means that I have a reason to keep fighting. Feeling something, even negative, means that I care about this shit. And those negative feelings can ben channeled into positive action. Negative feelings are fuel for getting things done. And that's what I intend to do.
I wish I hadn't heard what I did that afternoon, that that "joke" wasn't perceived as a joke. But if I was to go through this experience, I think it was valuable in that I learned (and re-learned) some lessons that are important for me to keep in mind if I'm going to join others in doing this work. Maybe I do feel some bone pain from the sticks and stones, but the sticks and stones have some lessons attached to them, too. Feeling some hurt is not entirely a bad thing in context.
<3 <3 <3