Don’t erase me.

Note: I only speak for myself here. I hope I don’t annoy or offend people who may feel like I am speaking for them and saying things they don’t need or want said. Let me know in a comment so I can think/learn!

Here’s the problem with saying things like
I’m colourblind; we all bleed red.

Why do gay people feel the need to come out? Love is love.

ALL lives matter. 

Look, I get you. I realise you’re saying things about how the world should be. But I’d also like you to know that being colourblind, being blind to differences and saying we’re all the same and all equal, well. It’s not great.

It invalidates the experience of living an othered life. When I hear people saying they don’t understand why gay people need to come out, it can feel like a tidal wave of erasure coming my way. My experience doesn’t matter. I don’t know what it feels like to be queer in this modern world.

But the thing is, if you are white and straight (and male? well educated? have money?) you probably don’t see that there is still a big problem. Lots of big problems.

Black people aren’t making up racism or exaggerating what it means to be black in today’s society. Why would they? Why would gay people be so scared of coming out if it wasn’t a colossally huge deal? And why would they (why would I, I own this, it happens to me) have to come out every single day to new people they meet, if it truly didn’t matter?

Sometimes I can say I have a wife and the conversation moves on, but usually it’s fraught with well meaning apologies for assuming I have a husband, asking me about gay marriage, etc. Sometimes it’s been less…pleasant.

My experience is other.

Saying things like, ‘Please, people, let’s stop talking about #blacklivesmatter and white privilege, we’re all Americans,’ boils my piss. Because the simple fact is, only a white American would be able to say something like that. Look around at every other minority, they’ve got a different story to tell. We may all be Americans, but we are not all living the same experience.

And, quite frankly, all this ‘colourblind’ stuff feels like privilege and assumption and oppression even more. You may mean it like, ‘Hey, we’re all people.’ And while that’s great, the assumption that you ‘don’t see difference’ means that you assume everyone is having the same experience you have. You are wiping out our voices, you are ignoring what we say, you comfortable where you are and assume everyone else is, too.

But I think the only way we are all going to get there, get to that place, is by doing the hard work. The uncomfortable work, if you aren’t used to it. It can take balls to come out again and again, ten times a day, but I do it because I don’t want to be ‘whitewashed’ (for want of a better term….maybe straightwashed?), because I want my children to know it’s okay to be who they are, because other people I meet might be trapped in a very tight and alone place, and I’d like them to feel comfortable telling the truth with me.

It can take bravery to try to find out the answers to questions you or your family may have. Why do some women wear headscarves? Why are black people ‘still’ so angry about slavery? (Yes, my mind explodes at this one, but this is a very common thing to hear in America.) Why do people want to emigrate to new countries, and what is that like for them? 

Do the work. Do a bit of research. Have uncomfortable conversations about inherent racism, about privilege, with your friends and family. Try to imagine what it might be like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

And please, stop erasing me.

We are all different and that has the potential to be such a strength. This world is full of colours and shapes and sizes and abilities and loves and stories. When you say we’re all the same, you are speaking from tremendous privilege and perhaps idealism, but you are not speaking the truth for all people. There are many rich subcultures all around us all, and what a shame it is if we miss the opportunity to learn more about them, to make friends with people unlike ourselves, to celebrate all these differences and how they enrich us all.

Minority people have spent years, decades, centuries carving out spaces to be proud of themselves, to not fall prey to shame and violence. When you say we don’t exist, when you say our experience isn’t valid, you are trying to wipe out the things that we have fought hard for, the things that make us special, the things that are a big part of who we are. If you want us all to be the same, to be a world without wonder and difference, I’d gently suggest that the way to do this isn’t to cover your eyes and pretend you don’t see us. We are here. We are ready and waiting for you. We want you to stand by us as allies, we want you to delight in our differences, we want to be acknowledged.

We are not all the same. And you know, that’s okay.

All I can do is love. 

Here’s my understatement of the year:

Man, things have been politically and socially messed up lately.

Here in the UK, the vote for Brexit (for the UK to leave the European Union) has triggered a huge rise in xenophobic hate crimes. Muslims (including British born), Polish people – hell, any flavour of immigrant (except, perhaps, white and well educated) is experiencing violence, having vitriol spewed at them, living in fear and uncertainty for their futures.

Many companies are choosing to leave the UK, the pound dropped in value overnight to unbelievable new lows, and the strongly held opinions of the leave/remain camps have caused friendship and family breakups. Political leaders appear to have no plan, other than quitting their jobs and stomping their feet.

In the US, a spate of violence has occurred – and not your ‘usual’ mass shootings that seem to barely affect people anymore. I went to bed one night with the news of a black man being held down and shot point blank, and woke up to the news that yet another black man was shot in his car – with a four year old child in the back. I won’t go over the details of these horrific killings, but I will say that my facebook community has been heavily invested in these debates. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter (which I support, 1,000,000%) has people foaming at the mouths.

Most alarming to me aren’t the out and out racists, but the ordinary people left scratching their heads and saying, ‘But don’t all lives matter?’ These are the people who genuinely don’t see why the BLM movement is necessary, the people who say they are colourblind, the people who probably have good intentions but don’t realise the ramifications of what they are saying.

These are the people who went nuts when policemen were shot and killed in Dallas, following a peaceful protest on behalf of BLM. The sort of protest march that has happened twice in London in the past few days, with no violence attached. Of course no one is saying murdering police is a good payback for them murdering black Americans, but suddenly it’s turned into a big contest between ‘black lives’ and ‘blue lives.’

I straddle both worlds, having lived in America until I was about 21/22, then moving to the UK. My friends live across the globe, but most are in the UK and the US. So when shit goes down in either place, given the (shameful?) amount of time I spend on Facebook, I see all the posts and arguments and memes and misunderstandings. Many of my friends are very political, and most are very liberal.

One said this week, ‘Why are we all talking about this? Is there a point? We need to stop talking and start doing.’ She’s right, of course, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. What can I, a sole person with no wide political or social reach, actually do? I’m not going to be going into Parliament or Congress to fight for law changes – but I can help raise awareness, I can strongly support minority communities (ever mindful that I’m queer and an immigrant, which no doubt colours my thinking), I can try to participate in respectful discussions. I can STAND UP against racism.

Most importantly, I am someone who DOES have one area of strong influence – my children. They are the next generation, the next brave people who will rise up and make their voices heard.

My strongest way to be and do is to do just what I am doing. I talk about difference with my kids. We have lots of hard discussions in a way that doesn’t feel so hard, because I start from the base assumptions that these things are worth talking about, and that my children are capable of having these discussions.

I want them to never be colourblind – I want them to see the richness and diversity of all our fellow human beings, I want differences to be celebrated and acknowledged, I want them to understand why when one group of people is targeted with hatred or violence, it affects all people. Keeping quiet implies tacit support of the oppressor, and I hope my children grow and learn how to navigate the tricky waters of society. I hope that even if they don’t take the waters of xenophobia or racism by storm, that they make ripples felt the whole world wide.

It’s up to us, to all of us. We need to lead by example. Black lives do matter. Immigants do contribute to our society. We can’t hope or try to erase whole communities of people from the wider social experience just because they speak another language or have skin that’s black. These people matter.

And so do our voices, and our actions. Do the little things you can. I’ve written my MP, I openly support and campaign for minorities (and gun law reform in America, but that’s a whooooolllle different story), I tell my children that we are all different, and that is okay. It’s better than okay, it’s glorious.

I am me, and you are you, and if only we all joined together, how much more powerful and beautiful this world would be.

Help! How should we talk about fat?

My kids know everyone’s body is different. Different skin colours, different hair texture, some big, some small, some tall, some short, some needing wheelchairs, some not. We’re okay; we’ve got that.

What we don’t have is a Me who knows how to deal with what is often termed ‘the honesty of small children.’

A few weeks ago as we were walking through the woods, a large man went past us. One of the kids said, loudly, ‘Wow, that man is really fat.’

I will leave out the discussion we had (another somewhat inane everyone is different thing, with some added awkwardness about how to talk about differentness).

The thing is, many people are sensitive about their weight. And someone pointing out their size in a slightly awed voice may sting.

But the other thing is that I’m trying to raise kids who celebrate difference. My kids don’t mock people for being fat/disabled/black/a ‘masculine’ woman, but they do sometimes notice it. And I think that’s okay.

I was raised with a ‘colourblind’ society being hailed as the utopia. But I don’t agree with it. I’m different; I’m a queer woman. My difference isn’t one I want silenced – surely we can all be different, can learn from differentness? It doesn’t naturally lead to exclusion or derision. In my utopia it leads to celebration.

That means I have a lot of conversations with my kids. Sometimes they don’t notice what makes people different, and that’s okay – they are too busy noticing what we have in common with others. And that’s great. But when they do – they ask about why some people wear head scarves or niqab, they ask why a black friend has curlier hair than we do, they ask how prosthetic legs work. And then they get on with their day, a little more clued up and a lot more likely to accept these differences in an easier way. Because I try to be open.

Did I initially have an easy time explaining women covering their heads or faces, when my kids have no concept of religion? No. But I muddled through, because we may be different but we are learning about respect, beliefs, choice, and how to talk about these things.

But fat? I don’t know.

It happened again at the pool yesterday. Another, ‘Hey, that man is really, really fat.’ We had a quick conversation about not pointing out how people are different, how it may make others uncomfortable.

But really, I was the only uncomfortable one. Hushing up fat talk, but not hushing up talk about that kid in the wheelchair with the awesome Spider-Man wheels….what message am I sending? That being overweight equals something shameful, abhorrent, embarrassing?

My kids tested it on me. ‘Mama, why are you fat?’ Then, rushing and somehow sly, ‘Oh, sorry, I called you fat.’

Somehow I had turned fat from an ordinary adjective into something darker. And I don’t like that.

So what do I say? How do I say it?

I’m sending mixed messages by talking about my stretch marks with pride, about how all our bodies are just right for each of us. And then cringing with horror when my kids dare to innocently point out a body that is outside of what many would consider a normal weight range. Wasn’t that my opportunity to say, ‘Yes, we’re all different! Isn’t that great?’

Instead I feel like an awkward, socially inept person who knows this conversation is ongoing…and has a long way to go…but I don’t know how to talk anymore. It’s uncomfortable for me. This may be our first experience of really going against the grain when, actually, we may be rubbing people the wrong way no matter what we say.

Maybe I need to carry on explaining that difference can be a really good thing, a chance to learn more about other people and the world around us. But that we need to think about how we point it out – and here’s where I draw a blank. Anyone have ideas? Please do leave a comment below!