Shut Up and Listen

It’s Monday and usually I would have a whole 24 more hours before I would start to feel panicked because my blog has four beginnings, but no middle or end. This week, however, we are going camping tomorrow morning and so I somehow need to iron out my thoughts into words tonight.


This would be easier if I wasn’t torn about what I wanted to say. Somehow it used to be so much easier to rev up my righteousness and let it carry me through. I still believe that there are things that are right and that are wrong, but it all gets muddled up in various shades of gray (or grey, even the word can’t make up its mind in exactly how it should be seen.)


I am a huge Harry Potter fan and when I first heard about JK Rowlings attack on trans people I was outraged. As someone who identifies as non-binary, her comments were direct and personal to me. She was telling me that I am a woman because she says so and it doesn’t matter if I feel that way or not.


I don’t know why she feels the need to be the gender police. I will never understand why other people believe they should have a say in who people love or how they identify.


J K Rowlings has been damaged on her path through life, and now she is sharing some of that damage with the world. What she says is ignorant and privileged (the best answer I’ve seen to it is here). When I hear her words, I hear fear and misinformation, she is on her high horse and frantically galloping out her truths.


But, that isn’t evil, it’s just human.


As humans, we suck a lot.


I have had the privilege of knowing a lot of awesomely, amazing, wonderful people in my life, but I’m sure all of them have done and said tremendously hurtful things. I know that I have done and said tremendously hurtful things.


J K Rowlings’ tremendously hurtful things have extra power because she's famous. This is a power that we give to her. It is another thing we love to do as people. We love to put other humans up on pedestals and then cry in rage when they fall off.


When I first heard that Bill Cosby was a serial rapist, I actually couldn’t believe it.


When I learned that John Lennon was a violent bigot, I thought the person telling me must be ill informed.


When I learned that Dr. Seuss was a racist ( the Cat in the Hat has its roots in blackface minstrelsy!) my heart was broken.


And now this. Now the writer of my favourite book series does not believe that there is any gender representation outside the binary model. She is able to write some wonderfully complex and interesting characters (especially Severus Snape), but as a person it seems she would like life to be simple. Just a battle between what’s right and what’s wrong.


I wish she would stop talking and do some listening.


Listening is unfortunately not a stop on the path of the righteous. There are moments when I cringe at the ghost of my younger self and wish I had had the courage to just shut up. It’s not so easy when we all believe that we are doing and saying the right thing. As long as we keep talking, there is only room for us to hear our own voice and that gives us the reassurance that we are right.


The problem with being right, is that it is a matter of perspective.


I have to wonder a little bit why we are giving a straight cis (cis means that you identify with the gender you were given at birth) woman so much of a platform to talk about trans and non-binary identities, why is her perspective important in these issues?


It reminds me of when I was first hired as a teacher and had to go to a homophobia training workshop (yes, they called it that, but I think it was supposed to either have anti- at the beginning, or awareness popped in there somewhere.)


I was a queer educator, sitting and listening to a straight cis woman talk about what it meant to be gay in the education system.


At first, I was amused, then incredulous and finally angry. About halfway through the three hour presentation, I asked the only question that I felt really mattered.


“Can I come out to my students?”


The answer was an awkward and apologetic, “No.”


There was some rational given I’m sure, I don’t think I was listening. I went and sat at a table in the hallway, letting the rest of the room know that if they wanted to talk to someone who was actually a part of the LGTBQ community, they were free to join me.


And they did.


There ended up being a great (often tense, not always easy) discussion and at the end, a number of these brand new teachers were going into their classrooms understanding that there were LTBGQ kids in those rooms and that only expressing heteronormative culture was telling those kids that they were fundamentally wrong.


My school experience was being told over and over that I was fundamentally wrong, by people who were probably a lot like JK Rowlings. They weren't evil or maliciously trying to hurt me. They were just wrapped up in their own truths and so had no place left to listen to mine.


Truth is a matter of perspective and we have to listen to hear the perspectives that matter.


If you want to learn about trans lives, listen to people who are trans. If you want to learn about systemic racism, listen to someone who endures countless examples of stereotyping and misrepresenting. If you want to learn about how government policy is affecting people with disabilities, listen to someone with a disability.


The important thing here is to listen to others, not to talk to them. It is a small but important distinction. A distinction that can make all the difference in the world.