Your Revelations Are Not Necessarily Enlightening To Everyone

Updated March 29, 2016 4:31pm PDT
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I love a good revelation; for me they are like orgasms. 

I like to delay my coming to them, with breath work, delving deeper, if it means that my climactic understanding will be that much higher. I also like to have them as often as possible. So I push myself, and I push the people around me, to greater feats of learning and understanding (sometimes but not always of an erotic nature).

It is possible to have a revelation on one's own, from doing deep reflecting and journaling, reading, listening to a song, dancing by yourself, having a dream. More often, the journey to understanding is aided by the emotional labor of someone else, your knowledge treading the bridge called someone else's back . This is especially true when we are talking about revelations related to accountability, understanding our own privilege, or understanding the experience of someone who lives in a different kind of body/body of knowledge than we do. 

(It’s also especially unseen and uncredited.)

No two learning curves look exactly the same–all human beings are in the process of traversing, parsing out, reining in, and following multiple concurrent learning curves, which pop up at different moments throughout their lifetime, and sometimes don't compliment one another at all.

Oh my friend, who holds privileges that I do not, but who is not necessarily not also marginalized, who is not necessarily worthy of my contempt or unworthy of my compassion, it is okay that we are at different moments in our learning. It is okay that we were given different curves. Often, this means that we can help each other out.

But there are ways that your learning process can hurt me. Bore me. Waste my physical energy, my emotional muscle, my time. I know this so intimately–not only because I have been harmed, insulted, or bored, following the learning curve of people I love, but also because I have been the one doing the extremely unattractive and unpartnerable learning dance.

Let's say I have a friend: this friend is white and leg-walky. Let's say that we are discussing ways our bodies are received in the world. We are relating, but also trying to discuss power and oppression. Inevitably, traumatic subjects come up, even when trauma is not the subject. I tell them about scars on my chest. On my back. My ankles. They tell me about being treated like a sexual object. I tell them about being treated like an object, sometimes sexual, sometimes devoid of any sexuality. They tell me about being told they are stupid. I tell them about being treated like an animal. While some of the ways that they have been made to feel bad about their body are in the past, the memories still live with them, and are brought up every time they speak to their parents. My memories are still with me, and so are the realities of a currently white supremacist, ableist world. 

My friend is struck with a successive series of revelations; they tell me all of them. They seem to believe that I am lucky, to have had the opportunity to develop my own sexual identity with no models, to carve out my own little space. They are wrong. When I correct them, they are shocked and hurt by my pain, hurt for me. But also moved that I understand myself so well. They tell me about these feelings. I realize, slowly, for every sentence I utter, they must have three more.

Despite the fact that this person and I maybe have both experienced dysphoria, eating disorders, misogyny, humiliation, physical, and emotional pain, I have experienced them while also experiencing racism and ableism throughout my life.

This friend is faced with two simultaneous learning curves. That of unlearning oppressive ideas about their own body, and that of unlearning oppressive ideas they have absorbed about bodies like mine, including but not limited to the possible assumption that our experiences are the same, or that they are comparable.

It can be a great challenge to interface both with personal healing of trauma and accountability to privilege. If this friend is a good friend and ally, they will not try to equalize our experiences in order to relate to me. They will not apologize to me for something they did not do, nor lash out at me in order to salvage their narrative and deny their privilege. An experience of privilege is not mutually exclusive from an experience of pain. None of our lives are hunky dory 100% of the time. Even my friend gets all of this, is a good friend, sometimes I am left exhausted by the turns the journey took to get to this place of shared understanding.

I am not participating in oppression Olympics; I don’t even believe in the actual Olympics. Displaying differences of experience when it comes to pain endured can be illuminating, and it can also be humiliating. I am constantly embarrassed to tell a new friend or lover about oppressions I experience that they do not. It feels sometimes, like admitting something is wrong with you, or reminding someone who does not have to remember every day, that history continues with us. I have lashed out at people who love me, for letting me be vulnerable with them.Relating is not only being vulnerable, but being accountable at the same time.

The more honest I am about oppression I have experienced, sometimes the harder it gets to believe that I should have to apologize for anything! But I still do! Sometimes. But not now. Sorrynotsorry.

Sometimes our personal revelations can make opaque the experiences of the people around us. Sometimes when we are on a learning curve journey of personal self-discovery, we should do it faaaar away from people, in an accessible cabin in the woods. But of course, this is not always possible. So we have to figure out ways to buffer our interactions surrounding subjects we are learning about.

Some recommendations I have for interfacing with experiences and subjects you are learning about include: Be honest about where you are coming from. About what you don't know. Don't take a learning moment personally! If I am being generous enough to teach you something, I am not trying to hurt your feelings. Be loving–towards yourself and the other person. It is not loving to endlessly punish yourself for your own learning, and it is not loving to force your friend to bear witness to your self-flagellation for how you’ve wronged them (unless you’ve mutually agreed to this dynamic).

Oftentimes, folks striving to be allies will perform a remedying of wrongs in a way which actually just takes up more space and requires comfort service labor from the people who they have wronged. Do your research. Do your homework. Read before you speak. Listen to what someone is trying to tell you. Be aware of how much energy is going into your teachable moment. Accept when your catching up to speed to what someone has been trying to teach you is too little too late.

I have had people egregiously hurt me with their learning process. Say things like, “I didn't know how challenging it would be to be friends with someone in a wheelchair!” Or, “Why do I have to talk about race in all my relationships with black people?” I have had these same people come back and apologize and try to show me what they've learned. Sometimes that's awesome, and we can continue our relationship, but sometimes the labor I expended tending to my wounds, or trying to prove to them their error, was too great. They don't get the reward of being close to me anymore. We don't get to tend to each other's curves. And that's sad.

Sometimes, people try to impress me with their learning process. Directly, by telling me how much they've learned about racism since our last conversation, or indirectly, by posting an article which is supposed to display their 200 level understanding of racism on their Facebook wall.

Be humble. Be transparent about who your teachers are. Give credit where credit's due. It breaks my heart when white people, able bodied people, cis people, etc, make jokes highlighting inequity in any given situation, to show off how enlightened they are–behind their presentation I can see the glimmer of many hours some other queer/trans/disabled/person of color struggled through a conversation with this person, to get them to their now confident, jovial place of societal critique. This is how our labor is not only invisibilized and silenced, but kept secret from one another.

Know your audience. Not every person you talk to is your therapist, your best friend, your girlfriend, your mom. It's unrealistic to expect that every person you flag down for a conversation will want to hear about how you've decided to stop wearing your hair in an appropriative style. It's downright disrespectful to expect that every person whom you hold privileges over will want to hear all about revelations you have had regarding oppression, identity, and their experiences, and other things they already know about. 

By regurgitating information you have recently learned to someone who lives it every day, you are forcing them to attend a 101 class on a subject they teach (often for no pay).

That all being said- your revelations are beautiful! They are important! They are special to you, even if a thousand other people are having the same ones. Tell your therapist! Tell your mom! Ask your best friend/grrlfriend/sweetiefriend if they have the capacity to listen to them and process with you! Write them down! This is why people have Tumblrs and Blogspots and Wordpresses and stuff, and why they used to have LiveJournal .

Why not even write a book of revelations? If you're white, chances are someone will publish it.

Give people a choice about how they follow your learning curve. Just because a piece of information knocked you down, laid you out, and changed your goddam life perspective, doesn't mean that it will do the same for someone else.

And on a very simplistic endnote: please stop telling me that I have face tattoos. I know that I have face tattoos.

Good luck on your path(s)!

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Lyric Seal aka Neve Be(ast) is a mixed black, queer, multigender, disabled, porn performing, performance art wreaking femme anarchist with a vengeance. They are a staff writer at HARLOT covering all topics which can vaguely be related to performing arts, love, sex/work, disability justice, policy, and the lush insides of their mind. Neve also has a column in maximumrocknroll called "Totally Lame." They are a contributor to Everyday Feminism and various literary magazines. You can book them to dance, talk, teach, and make you feel good about yourself.