Tuesday 21 October 2014

Being Other

This was intended to be another post related to Queer Romance Month, but I’ve gone kind of way off topic on this one. It’s turned out not to be so much about being queer as it’s about being “other”. I've mentally debated about whether or not to post it for over a week now, but here it is anyway...

There are a lot of different kinds of people who society treats as “other”. I fall into a couple of those groups.

I’ve mentioned on this blog before, that I have a few health issues. While my M.E. has never seen my completely confined to a wheelchair, there have been a lot of times when I’ve needed to use one when I leave the house.

As anyone who’s ever used a wheelchair knows, people treat you differently once you’re in a chair. You become invisible enough for people to walk into, or for them to accidentally hit you in the head with their hand bag when they turn around. But at the same time, you become someone other people want to keep their distance from—as if there is some suspicion that you might be contagious. Physical contact stops. People who would normally pause to chat suddenly cross the road to avoid you.

Several years ago, my parents and I went to see a show called La Cage Aux Folles. For those who don’t know it—it’s a fantastic musical. One of the main characters is Alvin who performs as a drag artist called Zaza. A lot of the show takes place in a night club and a fair number of the cast are drag performers in big elaborate costumes.

I went in my wheelchair. In this particular theatre, the wheelchair spaces were at the end of the fourth row from the stage.

In one part of this particular version of the show, the actors came down from the stage and moved along the end isles, shaking hands with the people sitting in the end seats.

I don’t know if the actors were gay or straight, if they identified in any way as queer, or if they’d ever done drag apart from in that particular show. What I do know is that, even when they saw the wheelchair, every one of those performers shook my hand—no hesitation.

I remember thinking—maybe these performers with their elaborate costumes and their huge drag queen wigs—maybe they know what it’s like for people to across the road to avoid them too. Maybe they get how much that hurts. Maybe that’s why they don’t do it to other people.

We were coming at it from very different places, but those performers and I were both “other” and that in itself can be a way to connect with people.

Now, I’m not saying that wheelchairs = queerness. Or that any minority who is seen as “other” should identify as queer.

But, I do think, in a good version of the world, people who are queer and people who are “other” in other ways should be on the same side.

Sometimes it does happen like that.

In America, you see mixed-race heterosexual couples marching in favour of same sex marriage because 60 years ago, their marriage would have been illegal too.

When same sex marriage was being debated in the UK, a straight Jewish man was interviewed on TV and he said he was in favour of it, because Jewish people and people in same sex relationships have both been discriminated against for far too long - and often by the same people.

I’ve found BDSM clubs are far more likely to be aware of the need for disabled access than vanilla venues are.

But sometimes the world gets screwed up and things go the other way.

You get signs like “don’t equate my skin with your sin”.

You get people who fight for women's rights who will only accept the existence of cis gendered women.

You get dating apps where a lot of gay men look for “straight acting” dates — where “no blacks, no Asians” is a common statement. So are comments like “no fats, no femmes” or “no HIV+”.

Go on a dating app for women who like women and you’ll see a lot of lesbians stating “bi women, don’t bother”.

In London Pride this year, bi people marching in the parade were heckled—by gay and lesbian people marching in the same parade.

Sometimes people are so focused on being angry that the world treats them as if they are “other”, they don’t realise that they’re doing exactly the same thing to other groups of people.

But those times when you connect—there’s so much power in that, so much humanity in that. If we can find a way to focus our energy on that, just think what the world would be like.

Imagine a world where no one ever crossed the road to avoid anyone just because they were different. It would be a nice world, wouldn’t it?

I think, in its own way Queer Romance Month is calling for that kind of world. I'm happy to be on the same side of the street as everyone involved in it.

You can read all the posts so far here.

And my post here.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, I have no idea how long this current run of over-sharing on my part will last either. I’ll probably go back to blogging once every blue moon at some point.

In the meantime, there’s more random over-sharing in an interview, and a giveaway, here.


Becky (fibrobabe) said...

I've been thinking along these lines this week, too. I'm just back from GRL, where I used a scooter to get around. I also used one at RT this year. While I don't use one at home (mainly because I don't leave the house much), at big conventions with a lot of walking, I NEED one.

The difference in the way I was treated at the "mainstream" romance convention vs the "queer" convention was significant. You always have to be ready to speak up and ask for space when you need it. In a crowd like that, people are distracted, talking to friends, looking for their favorite authors at a signing, or whatever. But at GRL I wasn't *ignored*. If people saw me coming, they'd shift out of the way, and encourage others to move, too. Elevator doors were held so that I could get the scooter in. (At RT, people would rush the elevators, and more than once I ended up waiting through two or three full elevators before I was able to catch one.) My neighbor across the hall even held my hotel room door open for me so I could get the scooter in the room, before I was able to get a door stop.

Basically, people saw me. They stopped to talk to me. They helped out where they could. Some of that could be because it was a smaller convention, a smaller community. But I also think it was because most of us have had the experience of being "other" in some way. Some of us are queer, some are kinky and open about that. Many of the straight allies have taken shit from others about their love of queer romance or their support of LGBT causes. And so we all went out of our way to make sure that everyone felt welcome and included.

It was certainly a good feeling.

Carole-Ann said...

I completely understand the "other" situation: my 2nd oldest grand-daughter (now 12) has talipes (aka club foot) in both feet. She was in plaster-casts from 6 weeks to 9 months; then had an operation at 4, when she had a 'frame' attached to her left leg, which meant a wheelchair for 10 months.

Pushing that chair whilst shopping, or even going to school, caused people to veer away from us - as if she had a transmittable disease - the avoidance was obvious. And this is just a physical disability! She walks well now, but has days when she is obviously in pain. She can't walk for too long; she can't wear 'proper' shoes - which she loves; she can't run; and finds walking up stairs quite difficult if there are a lot of them.

So I can imagine that anything 'other' DOES affect the way people view those 'other' people. This experience has widened my perceptions dramatically and I hope I show the same understanding and respect to those 'other' situations.

I do wish that "normal" people would accept that there are "others" out there - and accept them for WHO they are, and NOT give in to preconceptions.

Huge *hugs*

Unknown said...

"In London Pride this year, bi people marching in the parade were heckled—by gay and lesbian people marching in the same parade."

The first time I went to London Pride, a guy asked me when I decided to be bi. I calmly told him that probably around the same time he decided to be gay. He managed to look ashamed.

Another time, at a gay pub in London, at an event on 1st December, the owner gave a chat, where being gay and lesbian and the need to use protection was thrown about quite a lot. He didn't mention bi until the very end of his speech, and when I loudly said "FINALLY!", I got a lot of dirty looks. He didn't mention trans people at all.

I was marching with the Microsoft crowd this year at London Pride. I was wearing the bi flag, and only saw one other person in the crowd watching with the same flag. Next year, I'll join my fellow bi.

Kim Dare said...

Hi Becky,

Yes - that's exactly the kind of thing I was thinking about. "Otherness" should make people far better at empathising. (An I think there are amazingly few people in the world who aren't "other" in some way enough to do that.)

I'm glad GRL gave you a more positive experience than RT did.

I have tried scooters in the past but I'm a health and safety hazard in them - complete lack of coordination, lol. It sounds like you're much better in them than I am :)



Kim Dare said...

Hi Carole-Ann,

I think a lot of people get a huge shock when they come face to face with ableist attitudes. There's so much of it about, and it's so wide spread, it kind of becomes normal for people to treat people with visible disabilities as if they're not actually human beings. The media doesn't help at the moment :(

I think intersectional campaigns could do so much. People just need to be nudged into seeing the other kinds of "otherness".

I hope your granddaughter is doing well at the moment.

*huge hugs to you both*


Kim Dare said...

Hello :)

It always seems especially annoying when you see the one group of people who should "get it" throwing you under the bus :(

If lost count of the number of times I've tried to explain to people that if replacing the word "bi" with the word "gay" makes it homophobic, the original sentence was biphobic!

This year for bi visibility day, Stonewall tweeted about a report they brought out on LGB representation in the media and which they'd titled "Gay People on Youth TV". Sometimes you have to laugh or you cry.

I think one of the bi groups who marched in London was @bisexualindex from twitter. I don't know if you know of them?

Hopefully each Pride will get a little better and eventually all the bits of the acronym will get a shot :)