Sunday, April 10, 2011

To the lady in the 2nd row (or: my white-ish, straight-ish, able bodied-ish, priviliged-ish self)

Dear lady in the second row,

I've been thinking about you quite a bit. You seemed pretty dissatisfied with our exchange and you left the Human Body Project performance/engagement the other night at Union Theological Seminary early. I didn't totally know what you wanted from me when you brought up the fact that historically white women have been privileged and I didn't want to put words in your mouth. I don't disagree, compared to most women of colour, white women have been and are privileged. I have white skin and am clearly a person of some privilege in a world where most people scramble to eat.

Let me address my perhaps irritating non-conspicuousness.

I am a person with white skin. Yes. Although my experience of the culture I was born into (let's face it, one created by white people) is deadening and disease-making. I would say my biggest grief in life is the feeling of having no tribe.

I am a heterosexual woman in my late 40s married to a man and I have two children. How "normal" can you get? When I was fairly recently arrived in Lethbridge, my new boss asked me if I thought people in Lethbridge were "nice"? I said: "I'm a white woman in my 40s who goes around town with a cute 3-year-old, why wouldn't they be nice?" I appear to be non-threatening if I don't open my mouth. I also recognize that people who look or sound a certain way (i.e. natives and immigrants) often get treated like shit in Lethbridge.

My straight-ish self struggles with sexuality and the mess that brings up. I've written before in this blog about my difficulty accepting/integrating the beauty of the sex I share with my husband. As I mentioned at UTS, I struggle with loving my body. I was at an academic conference where a brave woman showed a homemade porn video of her way of getting off sexually. Perhaps your reaction is, "'a homemade porn video of her way of getting off sexually' was brave?! She showed it at an academic conference?!" Does it make more sense when I say that she was paralyzed and in a wheelchair?

In that academic session, I shared that I had sometimes thought my husband and I should make "porn" because our sex is so unlike what I grew up thinking sex was: co-creative, flowing, healing, loving, not about how we (or, especially, me) look(s) but about how we feel. A woman who lives a life much more conspicuously non-mainstream-looking than me dismissed my suggestion. Like somehow I was suggesting making mainstream porn, which is, of course, generally, none of the things my husband and I share. My thought was that she could not see beyond my "normal"-lookingness in the same way she felt that people couldn't see beyond her looks.

I do believe it is a common problem of us humans. We are visual and we judge and label and make up stories. The great thing is that we can catch ourselves and go beyond that starting place (like me, as I mentioned the other night, having to change the story I'd created in my head about the two brown guys who came to one of my shows and were the opposite of hostile).

I am not a comfortable straight-ish woman. I am a creative, feminine being in a competitive, domination-oriented world. Men tend to be far more comfortable with this world of overbalance to masculine energy. I would venture to say most don't have the slightest clue of the little day-to-day harms it engenders, not to mention the macro-level destruction. But I do. Deeply, viscerally. And I don't really have places to talk about that or process that, not even with my kind husband.

I appear to be able-bodied. This has been a source of difficulty for me. To look so normal and feel like such shit. I have written before of chronic fatigue, super-sensitivity to chemicals, chronic flu-like symptoms, and despair. I would gladly cut off a limb to be free of these symptoms. (I will also happily report that in the last year or so, my strength and health have much improved.)

Am I privileged? You bet. You looked pretty clean and well-fed yourself. What am I doing with my privilege is the question? Well, for one, I am spending a good chunk of my middle-class income on this project--it is almost completely self-financed because, as I mentioned the other night, there are no categories or jobs for what I'm doing. I also am doing what I'm doing knowing full well I am facing intense judgment, rejection, or worse. I find the shit that goes on in my head, provoked by imagined judgment and rejection, almost unendurable at times. (Like since the UTS gig! I may write more about this later, but knowing a bit about who my audience was gave me expectations I didn't even know I had. I think I thought I might find my tribe there.)

I do this project at quite a high personal and financial cost. I recognize that my privilege allows me to do it. The project itself has nothing to do with having white skin. You, or any other human being of any shape, size, colour, or whatever, could do what I'm doing and some people woujd judge and some people would admire and some people would leave and some people would feel compassion. Being able to do it has a lot to do with education, experience, economics, and Western democracy's laws--there's where the white skin and history come in.
If I could have anything that I want, I would choose to have a world based on the principles of feminine energy: nurturing, cooperative, shared responsibility, creative, with the masculine energy supporting and protecting that. I feel like I live in a world that if asked, if you could have anything you want, most people would answer with a thing (or rather, lots of things). What a fucked up world! I am privileged, yes, but I live in a world I find incomprehensible and intolerable, where I may be inconspicuous but where who I really am is invisible. It is a world where atrocities take place casually as part of business as usual, where it's easy to turn a blind eye and most do. Just because I'm white, straight, able-bodied and privileged does not mean I am not damaged by this world, does not mean I am not deeply offended and affected by the atrocities.

I am deeply sorry for the history of slavery and racism in your country. I am even more sorry that there is so little acknowledgment and processing of that cruel history that has been done. These unprocessed griefs perpetuate more damage. Because we live in the world we live in where striving or holding on tight is the norm, it's difficult to see beyond that; but, in my opinion, no one is winning.


  1. No words at the moment, just feeling. You are beautiful.

  2. Do you often get the above kind of abuse?
    That sickens me. I apologize for you having to suffer through these kind of reactions.

  3. I've had similar thoughts in my healthy, white, male cranium, but not as calm and nuanced. Thanks for the example.

  4. Thank you very much responders. I got rid of porn guy. (Auntie Em, I don't get that many such responses, luckily.) Apologies for my slowness at keeping up and leaving his comments there!