Taking Up Too Much Space?

My fiancée and I had a very interesting discussion the other night. Mira and I were talking about the space we occupy, and despite both the knowledge and belief that we are entitled to that space, sometimes, there is some guilt in occupying our own space. As if fully occupying our space, filled with its happiness and love and good fortune, we are taking away from those who are struggling.

I wrote a while back about attending the Trans 100 and listening to Tiq Milan talk about taking up space.

We are all entitled to space in this world, and we are fully allowed to occupy that space.

We have a right to exist, and we have a right to been seen, to have our voices heard, and to move through this world as everyone else does.

When others try to occupy our space, or even part of our space, it’s oppression and discrimination. They are trying to tell us that we are not important enough for our space, or that they are so important they need our space as well. When someone tries to silence our voice or speak for us, they’re occupying our space.

But what happens when we don’t feel entitled to our space in this world? What happens when our narrative feels akin to boasting?

My life is good now. It didn’t used to be. Those of you who know me know the struggles I’ve overcome. But that was then. The space I occupy now is different, stronger, and more confident. The life I live is happy, loving, and stable. But at times, almost (rather, quite) like a survivor’s guilt, I wonder if my story is too good to tell. Mira and I both struggle with this. Rather than talk about the good things happening to us, rather than rightfully occupy our space, we remain silent.

After all, I’m no braggart, and as an activist and an ally, I firmly believe it is my responsibility to lift those who are struggling, so their voices may be heard. If I speak out of turn, or if I talk over the voices of those I ally myself with, what kind of support is that?

So instead, we stifle our story, tamping it down so as not to distract from those who struggle. We lend sympathetic ears, and allow these stories to be told. After all, our happiness may push them further into their sorrow, right? If I talk about all the good things happening to me right now, that’s boasting, isn’t it? That’s telling those who are struggling that my story is more important, right? It’s taking away their space, right?

Oh my God…am I being oppressive?

Well, that escalated quickly…

I feel that people struggle with the concept of occupying space in this world. There are those who try to occupy too much, stepping on the toes of others and trying to push them out of their space. And then there are those who either don’t realize they’re allowed to take up space, or they don’t feel the space they have is deserved. There are also those who who remain in their space, but somehow feel their space is more important than others and insist they are the defining example of those like them.

My life has much privilege now – the privilege, essentially, of being a white, heterosexual male. I have white privilege, I have socioeconomic privilege, I have male privilege, I have heterosexual privilege…

Does my space shrink with the more privilege I have? I think the perception, the wrong perception, is that the space you’re entitled to increases with privilege. I don’t feel that is right. While there are no obvious, visible lines limiting the space we have, I think 1) it is our job to maintain limits in the space we occupy and 2) just as there is finite room on this earth, the amount of space available is finite, even if it isn’t a tangible thing.

Maintaining the limits of the space I occupy doesn’t mean I silence my voice. What it does mean is that it is my responsibility to be aware of those around me and the space they occupy. It means that sometimes my voice should remain quiet – this doesn’t mean that my voice is any less important. It simply means that it’s not my place to talk, and any opinions or thoughts I choose to share, should be considered with regard to those around me, and the stories they are telling. It means that in conversations concerning race and gender equity, I should do far more listening than talking.

Maintaining the limits of the space I occupy means that I have a duty to call others out, and then in, when they are overstepping the limits of their space and encroaching on the space of others. It means understanding the privilege I have, and not using that privilege to oppress, but to raise up those individuals who are struggling.

It also means that I don’t have to be guilty about fully occupying my space. My happiness doesn’t take away from others. It doesn’t occupy their space or prevent their voice from being heard.

When I talk of a finite space, it’s not finite in the sense that those coming into the world don’t get a space or those leaving this world take their space with them. I mean it is finite in the sense that our space is just that, our space. It is finite in the sense that there is space specifically for every individual on this earth, and that our space is all the same. No one is entitled to a bigger space than someone else, regardless of success or struggle, and your space doesn’t change in size depending on how much or how little privilege you have.

My story is part of the space I occupy. My beliefs, experiences, ideas – these are all rightfully mine and are contained within my space. But should they stay there? Should I silence my voice out of guilt because someone else is struggling? Should I silence my voice because my voice is happy?

My story, while both happy and sad, triumphant and tragic, deserves to be heard as much as any other story. Comparing the importance of individual experiences is a very dangerous path to go down. It pits the marginalized against one another, as if bleeding at the hands of someone else is somehow worse (or better?) than bleeding because of my own hand.

No. My voice should never be silenced. The space I occupy has been created for me, and quite frankly, it is my duty to occupy that space. If I don’t occupy it, then I’m failing those who are struggling, in a sense. If I don’t occupy my space, all of it, then someone else will, and I don’t have the ability to choose who that individual will be.

It is my duty to occupy that space in that my story of struggle and success could help someone else realize that as much of a cliché “It gets better” is, there is truth in the phrase. My narrative is relatable. It is as relatable as the other narratives that exist.

My voice may give others the strength to speak. So then, is it fair for me to silence myself and crawl into a remote corner of the space I’m supposed to occupy because someone else will be struggling more? No, it’s no more fair than if I were to try to silence the voice of others so I may be better heard.

It’s just as important for someone to be able to relate in the struggles of someone else as it is to reinforce that hope for the future.

To those who wish to occupy my space – it is mine, I am entitled to it, and I refuse to let you silence me.

To those who feel they do not deserve the space they occupy – stand firm, stand strong; your space was made for you, occupy it with the knowledge that it is important because you are in it.

To those who wish to blanket your story over mine – understand that all voices must be heard, and my story is just as important, even if it is for different reasons.

Go out in the world. Take up the space you are entitled to. Help others to occupy their own space. And don’t feel shame or guilt in doing so.

 

 

 

Sticks and Stones…

As promised, here’s the follow up to the previous post, Casual Homophobia.

Homophobic language didn’t always exist in society. In fact, many of the words we view as derogatory didn’t start out that way.

This post will address the following terms: gay, faggot/fag, queer, and dyke – as these are the terms most often used in a pejorative context.

GAY – Happy_smiley_face

The ultimate origin of the word ‘gay’ is unknown, but seems to come from the Old French word gai, meaning joyful, happy; pleasant, agreeably charming. The earliest documentation of the word comes from the 12th Century as a surname.

In the early 14th Century, gay was defined as ‘stately and beautiful; splendid and showily dressed’ – still an adjective, and not a noun. Certainly there was no negative connotation to the word at this point. In fact, it wasn’t until the 17th Century that the word gay was used to suggest immorality. Geoffrey Chaucer, lauded as the Father of English 23Literature, wrote in The Canterbury Tales in 1630:

But in our bed he was so fresh and gay,
And ther-with-al so wel coude he me glose,
Whan that he wolde han my bele chose,
That thogh he hadde me bet on every boon,
He coude winne agayn my love anoon.
Which, when translated, reads:
He was an animal in bed, though, and knew how to turn me on so much when he wanted my vagina that even if he beat every bone in my body, he could win my love again in no time at all.
This trend towards a negative connotation to the word gay continued, and in the 1890s, was used to suggest promiscuity. Brothels were referred to as gay bath houses. However, the word was still not used to specifically cat-sexydescribe homosexual men. It most likely got a boost in that direction during the same time period. The term gay cat was used by transients to describe a young or new hobo. The Gay Cat was often singled out and beaten, and many times, would become a slave of sorts to older, more experienced hobos, like a personal assistant. And while none of the older transients would come out and say so, it was known that being in that position, sexual acts were often part of the deal. These Gay Cats became a subculture, and apparently, homosexuality was a norm for the group.
Then, in the late 1940’s, ‘gay’ showed up as a slang term for homosexuality in psychological writings. However, it was still not easily distinguishable from older meanings of the word. From Rorschach Research Exchange and Journal of Projective Techniques, written in 1947:
After discharge A.Z. lived for some time at home. He was not happy at the farm and went to a Western city where he associated with a homosexual crowd, being “gay,” and wearing female clothes and makeup. He always wished others would make advances to him.
As you can see, the term ‘gay’ as used in the above example could either refer to the fact that the man was homosexual, or that he dressed in a flamboyant and showy fashion.
In the mid-20th Century, the term was applied to homosexuality, as in gay being deviant from the norm (homosexuality) and straight applied to heterosexuality – as in following the normal course of nature. 
However, the Dictionary of American Slang claims the word was used by homosexuals among themselves since at least 1920, lending to the password nature of the speak-easies during Prohibition. The term wasn’t openly used as a noun to reference homosexual males until 1971, but had been used prior to that as an adjective to describe the effeminate behavior of homosexual men. It was at this time that the term ‘gay’ began its journey into becoming a pejorative word. The use as an insult increased in the 1980’s (especially with the rise of AIDS and its stigma) and especially in the late 1990’s.
However, it wasn’t until 2000 that the term took on the slang meaning of ‘bad; inferior or undesirable’.
faggotFAGGOT
Initially, this word appeared in the late 13th Century, again derived from an Old French word, fagot, meaning a bundle of twigs bound up. This word quickly took on negative connotation in 1914 when it was applied to male homosexuals. The reference came from Jackson and Hellyer – A Vocabulary of Criminal Slang, With Some Examples of Common Usage. The shortened term ‘fag’ didn’t appear until 1921. The application of this term to gay men could have come from a contemptuous term for a woman, especially an old, homely woman. The reference is to the bundle of sticks – something awkward that has to be carried – like that of a worthless woman. This term came from a slang for baggage, referencing the woman, and was from the 1590’s. 
There is a bit of an Urban Legend behind the use of the term. It’s been said that the term became widely used to 1121reference homosexual males when Christianity was burning heretics at the stake. Heretics that recanted were required to wear an embroidered faggot on their sleeve, reminding them of who they were. It’s akin to the scarlet letter. However, the term was used mainly in England, where the preferred method of punishing homosexuals for violating the law was hanging. There is no evidence to back up the claim that faggot was applied to gay males in this fashion.
Now the term is primarily used in a pejorative sense in North America, especially by protest groups, most notably the Westboro Baptist Church, as an epithet to cause shock and garner attention.
Queer1QUEER
Initially appearing in 1922 in a derogatory sense to describe homosexual men, the word queer dates back to the 1500’s, when it meant ‘strange or peculiar’.  The term has never really taken the same kind of pejorative stronghold as ‘faggot’ and ‘gay’ have, however. This doesn’t mean it has lost its derogatory nature. It is now applied to those individuals who don’t necessarily classify themselves under the LGBT identities.
images (13)DYKE
Again, us lesbians are sort of left behind. Originally, the term ‘dyke’ shows from 1896 as vulgar slang for the vulva. Its application to lesbians are not clear, but could be from the term bulldyker – a term that appeared in 1920’s novels connected to the Harlem Renaissance. For example, in Claude McKay’s 1928 novel, Home to Harlem he writes:
Claude McKay
There’s evidence that the term may have come from the word morphodite, a dialect variant of hermaphrodite – a term that was once used to reference homosexuals. The word dyke originally referred to a specific type of lesbian – those with more masculine qualities, and today the word has a large spectrum for application to various types of lesbians based on appearance and demeanor.
What I find incredibly interesting is that these words didn’t really fall under the classification of pejorative language until after the United States was established. A country that was once called a ‘Melting Pot’ was also the least tolerant of many forms of diversity. And it seems to have continued that way, even today. I mean, it wasn’t until 2000 that someone suddenly decided that gay was synonymous with stupid. And with the classification of homosexuality as a mental illness did nothing but further the derogatory nature of these words.
And why? Why was it necessary to associate these words with homosexuality, especially in a negative fashion? Was it an attempt to contain that which was misunderstood? Even so, why do we perpetuate the negativity with these words today?
I don’t know that we’ll ever truly be able to answer those questions. At least not satisfactorily. But, from here on out, I’m going to be far more aware of the words others use around me, and I will hold them accountable for their words.

Discrimination within the GLBT community

With all the discrimination coming at us, from so many different angles, I thought I’d take a look at some of the most damning discrimination we face. That within our own community.

A stereotype is defined as a ‘widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

But where do stereotypes come from? Within ourselves. When a group of people do the same thing enough times, it becomes the acceptable norm for that group. At some point, the majority of lesbians had to wear flannel, cargo shorts, and Birkenstocks. That was what was acceptable in our community at that point in time.

Just as the media creates stereotypes in the African American community by celebrating the ones that commit crimes, we’ve perpetuated our own stereotypes.

To all of my lesbian readers, I’m sure you know what the butch-femme continuum is, but to those of you that don’t, here’s a link, and my Clif Notes version:

Screen_shot_2011-11-16_at_11.05.26_AM

Now, the Butch-Femme Continuum is nothing more than a scale used to categorize the lesbian community. I myself, am a Soft Butch. Meaning I look and dress like a guy, but I’m not a tough, truck-driver type of woman. There are other qualities that follow that, but basically, you’re a femme if you look like a girl, and a butch if you look like a guy.

We categorize ourselves. We create these stereotypes and expectations that we force our own community to live by. How can we be upset at others for creating stereotypes when we do it to ourselves? They’re simply taking what we perpetuate and giving it publicity.

As if it’s not hard enough already for teens to come out of the closet, lesbian teens also have to figure out that not only are they homosexual, but they now have to figure out what category the lesbian community will place them in. We talk about carrying our ‘butch card’ and all this other…bullshit, honestly…and then get pissed off when a heterosexual makes a comment about lesbians and faux hawks.

And that’s just half of it. We not only perpetuate stereotypes, but we discriminate within our own community. If you are a homosexual, take a moment to think about something. How do you feel about bisexuals? Or the transgender community? Are they just freaks whom we need to distance ourselves from in our effort for equality? Are they just confused individuals? If you can’t embrace everyone the same, then what makes you deserve ‘equality’? Why do we deserve same-sex marriage when transgender teens are killing themselves over the cruel punishment they face in society over something they had no choice in?

Bisexuals are no more confused than I am when I’m trying to figure out what pasta I want from Olive Garden. Transgenders don’t need to accept the body they’re given because some unseen deity screwed up when handing out crotches.

And attraction has nothing to do with stereotypes. I dress in men’s clothing and have short hair and strut instead of prance because that’s what makes me feel comfortable. Not because that gives me a higher score on some imaginary scale or because I need to fulfill a stereotype to make me fit in. I have the things I’m attracted in, and over the years, I’ve dated women of all shapes and sizes. When asked what my ‘type’ is, I can honestly say I don’t have one. Eyes and smile get me first. Everything else just adds to it.

All our lives we categorize everything around us. And we learn it at a young age. Mom and dad tell us to pick up our toys, and give us a place to put those toys. A place for everything and everything in its place. We carry that with us through our lives. It’s easier to handle things when we can put them in a category, and tuck them away into a compartment in our mind of how things are supposed to be.

I say we upset that balance. We upset that categorizing that has come to rule so many aspects of our lives. Stop labeling, stop categorizing, and you’ll see there’s nothing left to stereotype. Because when it all comes down to the end, we are human, and if you line enough of us up, you’ll see the only real difference between us is what’s inside.

So the next time you participate in a march for equality, ask yourself, are you really marching for everyone’s equality? Or just your own? Stop stereotyping, and just be.

Welcome!

PrideWelcome to uncloseted, a blog for homos, by homos. The purpose of this blog is to provide a frank discussion on issues regarding equality, health, sex, and relationships in the GLBT community.

Ultimately, I want this blog to expand into a website, providing links to resources of all kinds for the GLBT community. I’d like to see readers comment, discuss and respond to the posts, provide advice, personal stories, and possible resources.

I will monitor comments. I want this to be a safe place. No attacks, no vulgarity, no hatred. I’d love to see people of all ages visit the blog, including teens who may be struggling with their identity. This is an anti-bullying site.

So come and visit, provide suggestions for the blog – topics you want to discuss, issues you’d like to address – or if you want to share your coming out story with us, please feel free.

Thank you,

Teri