A Different Kind of Privilege Conversation

Good morning, lovely readers!

Today I want to talk about something that has been on my mind following a thought-provoking interaction with a friend.

A small group (including me and this friend) were prepping for a thing—the thing is not important in the context of the story aside from the fact that we were working on it together and made our way over to a discussion of privilege in the process.

But not the kind of discussion that you might typically see, where people “confess” which privileges they have and vow to stop using their privileges as though privilege were a sin.

Instead we started imagining that privileges could be purchased through a special, imaginary catalog, exploring which ones we each might choose to have if we could buy anything out of this catalog.

Most of the responses were pretty typical; I didn’t even have to think about mine before blurting out “visibility.” When it came time for my friend to go, he hesitated and pondered for a bit before expressing that this would seem off to some of us because of his being straight, white, and a cisman, but he expressed that the privilege that he really wanted was the sense of connection and belonging to a culture or identity like he saw with some of us.

The answer took me aback, but not because I have come to expect that socially conscious men acknowledge that they have “nothing but privilege” (not necessarily something I support, but a common enough reaction to privilege questions). Rather, it took me aback because of the intense longing I actually felt when he said that.

He pointed out to me something I didn’t even realize I had…which makes sense because you are typically blind to your privilege until you’re made aware of it, right? Right. Suddenly all those times that I had scoffed at people who said “Well when’s international men’s day?” or “We need a straight pride parade”—those times began to take on a different light.

Later, as he and I talked more, I began to realize that there isn’t really a positive identity towards which someone like him could turn.

As a woman, I can turn away from sexist characterizations of myself and draw on the beautiful feminist, body-positive, sex-positive, goddess spirituality that I have come to love. As a bi person, I can connect with the Queer community or specific bi groups where I can openly celebrate my identity, taking pride in my sexual orientation. Hell, I’ve even written posts about it.

I have long thought that it is important for marginalized individuals to find ways of celebrating and loving their marginalized parts so that the whole of their interaction with those parts isn’t just fighting against prejudice or discrimination.

But I literally never thought about people like my friend and how they are expected to disown, distance, or divorce themselves from the identity of oppressor but have no alternative positive version of the identity to seek. All the “pride” groups for privileged identities are associated with vitriolic hatred and intolerance. If someone says they have white pride—the context basically means they are a white supremacist. If someone says they have straight pride—the connotation is that they’re homophobic.

But “pride” in that context is more about the way that it is used to mask intolerance, hatred, and superiority complexes. It’s so far from the definition and connotation of pride used in the context of marginalized identities that it’s barely the same word.

When I express pride in being bi, I definitely don’t mean that I think I’m superior to straight people or that I want to strip them of human rights. When I express pride in my feminine side, I’m not harboring hatred towards men.

I’m not trying to say that we need to reclaim the “pride” word. Rather, I’m thinking more about the possibility for…shall we call it healthy self-esteem and sense of belonging?

I want men to have a positive masculinity to gravitate towards. I want them to have ways of relating to their gender that isn’t rooted in shame (if they’re conscious enough to see women’s issues), neutrality (probably the most positive of what I see available currently), or hypermasculinity and arrogance.

I think it’s necessary, in fact. Because becoming interested in social justice shouldn’t carry the idea that you have to forever be ashamed of who you are and disconnected from a sense of dignity. My friend later expressed to me that he was extremely nervous, and I could see that in other contexts, he might have been raked across the coals without anyone bothering to try to understand where he was coming from.

In another context, I might have been the one laughing about fragile masculinity.

So what am I saying? I know I’ve rambled a lot in this post. I guess the thing that has been weighing on my mind is really that we need to do better at understanding that having privilege doesn’t mean that people don’t have a similar desire to belong and feel good about themselves—that that desire is not bad. It’s just a function of being human. We literally all have it. And social justice is a hobbled movement if we’re asking people to “wake up” but not offering alternatives of ways they can achieve those needs without resorting to harmful power structures.

 

 

My Wounded Activist Heart

I’m not a Trump fan by any stretch of the imagination, and I’m as eager as anyone to see him discredited, dethroned, impeached, jailed, etc.

But I draw the line at attacking his wife.

Since the election, I’ve seen an upsurge of Facebook posts suggesting that Melania’s former work as a nude model makes her unfit to be the First Lady, disparaging her for being an immigrant, or negatively comparing her with “classy” first ladies like Michelle Obama or Jackie Kennedy.

As a liberal, feminist, bi activist, I cannot participate in those efforts in good conscience because they conflict with my values.

How Melania has expressed her sexuality shouldn’t matter. No woman deserves to be ridiculed and shamed for how much or little of her body she has shown. Having a history as a porn model or sex worker should have no effect on whether someone is qualified for political office, much less on whether she’s qualified to be the wife of someone in political office.

On a similar note, her former work shouldn’t imply that she’s less “classy” than other First Ladies because claiming such would require a view that sex work is shameful and debasing–a premise I adamantly reject.

Ironically, I have periodically heard people try to justify these attacks on Melania by claiming that it is no different from how Michelle Obama was treated.

But in my book, turn about is not fair play.

It’s not making people reconsider how they might have talked about Michelle Obama. It’s not preventing Melania from being the First Lady.

It’s not even hurting Trump because he unquestionably demonstrated that he had no problem taking jabs at Melania at the Al Smith Charity Dinner, despite his visible discomfort with any jokes directed at himself. Melania is expendable to him, only useful insofar as she feeds his need for power and prestige.

But I have another reason for my refusal to make sexist attacks on Melania. She is the first First Lady that I have worried about her treatment at home.

Trump is publicly emotionally abusive to virtually everyone he dislikes, particularly towards women. He has been accused of rape and sexual assault from more than one woman, including an accusation of marital rape and domestic battery from a former wife.

I have no confidence that he suddenly becomes a docile teddy bear in private with Melania.

It’s hard enough to get out of a toxic relationship in normal circumstances, but when your husband is suddenly the Commander and Chief with the secret service at his disposal and an ego as fragile as a butterfly wing…I don’t know about you, but I’d probably keep my head down and beg people not to make him angry as well.

Ultimately, I see attacking Melania as more than a direct conflict with my values; it’s potentially heaping yet more mistreatment onto an already mistreated woman, demonstrating to her that those who claim to be “on the side” of women are hypocrites, neither a safe haven nor living example of respect for her.

But standing true to my social justice values has resulted in some unexpected conflicts. Others that I would have previously assumed shared my values have reacted with hostility towards my discomfort with the treatment of Melania. I’ve found that people are willing to resort to prejudice and then claim oppression when I speak out against that prejudice. Just yesterday, I was accused of being a homophobe and a white supremacist because of this stance.

It’s a discouragement I didn’t expect to face as I headed into a Trump presidency. I’m not only contending with the horrible realization that sexism, racism, and despotism won the election, but I’m also having to face the reality that it’s infiltrated what I would have considered “my turf” and poisoned those I would have called “my people.”

Trump has said and done some truly awful things that shouldn’t be ignored…but if the attempts to oppose him sound more like something he would say, I’m not sure that’s a movement I actually want to be a part of.

I Put a Spell on You…and Myself

a_witch_casting_spells_over_a_steaming_cauldron-_engraving_b_wellcome_v0025855

A witch casting spells over a steaming cauldron by H.S. Thomassin

Let’s talk about magic.

I’m currently working on developing a binding spell for Trump’s presidency to limit the damage he can do. I realize that it may not work, but it feels better than doing nothing.

Depending on where you look in the world of magic, you can get very different messages about binding spells, some warning that you should never ever do them and others suggesting that sometimes it’s appropriate but you’d better have a good reason.

In both instances, the fear is that a spell designed to interfere with the free will of another has the possibility of creating some…karmic payback.

Wiccans in particular cite the “Rule of Three”—the idea that what you put out into the world will return to you threefold.

I don’t personally believe in the rule of three in a literal sense, nor do I ascribe to a spirituality that is all positive rainbows and sunshine. Darkness, destruction, and shadow emotions have their place. I also don’t expect myself not to have emotions such as anger because binding spells are usually my response to boundary violations that have gotten out of hand. Anger is entirely appropriate.

But I never let myself cast the spell when I am actively feeling vindictive. I think it’s valuable to consider how I would feel about being the recipient of my own spell because it makes me consider my intentions. For me, a binding spell is about setting a boundary not about “getting even.”

I write them in a way that if I were to be on the receiving end, I could live with what I was doing. Thinking about myself being the recipient helps me keep the best interest of the person in mind. It reminds me that I don’t want to prevent them from being happy. I don’t want to prevent them from accomplishing good.

I do want to limit their capacity to harm others (including me)…and I am totally okay with that coming back to me threefold or twentyfold because I also want to limit my capacity to cause harm to others.

Generally, I don’t even write the spell to force their choices or actions to change. I write the spell to interfere with how effective they can be if they make those choices.

In other words, I don’t try to mess with their free will. I just try to stimulate failure for any action that might be abusive or harmful.

So far, I have done three binding spells—all of them scarily effective considering that those people pretty quickly chose to exit my life afterwards.

Trump is definitely different because I don’t know him personally so I don’t know what his good intentions or positive qualities might be. It’s a little more tempting to wish him ill.

I also realize that it’s not enough to just cast the spell and rest comfortably in the hope that he won’t harm me personally. I have to also keep a watch on how he is affecting others and stay involved to the extent that I am willing to stand up to injustice, even if it’s not knocking on my door specifically.

However, I recognize that wishing him general failure means wishing the nation failure as well because, like it or not, he will be leading us come January. I have to work even harder to ensure that my motivations are pure, fueled by righteous anger but not coming from a place of malice because I don’t doubt that malicious intent towards someone so influential will have ripple effects on the rest of us.

In this instance, I specifically want to bind him from causing or inciting violence. I want to open his ears to hear the people who are vulnerable right now. I want to tie his success to justice, and call up failure on anything he attempts to do that would violate the rights of others.

And as with the other spells, I design my spell with every intention of having to live under it myself. I am committing myself to the same values with which I want him to lead. More than that, I am binding myself to staying active in the cause.

If you are a spell-worker, will you commit your energy to the same?

 

 

 

Killing the Messenger: A Closer Look at Anger

Last week in talking about forgiveness, anger and violence frequently came up. Even though I normally would do something lighter after such a heavy topic, I feel I need to cover my position on anger to try to clear up the misunderstandings. To be honest, I’m not even sure how much of this is original to me or to another psychotherapist because it’s a topic that we’ve covered in depth several times. Then again, how much of an idea is ever original to anyone? All ideas are formed based on our interactions with others. Therefore, here is my spin on what I’ve come to understand about anger through the exchange of ideas with very wise others.

I suppose if you weren’t shocked about my previous post, you won’t be shocked to learn that I’ve come to see anger as healthy. I lost count of how many times I said that last week. Anger really is the most demonized shadow emotion, and it’s unfortunate because anger can be such a powerful tool.

I think the aversion to anger lies in this myth that anger is the same as malice, violence, and abuse.

It’s not.

First, malice is an intent—wishing someone harm. While I could argue a relativistic approach about the neutrality of a “wish,” I do not believe that intending someone harm is either good or healthy. But anger doesn’t have to come accompanied with intent. I can be (and am) angry at my abusers without wanting to see them harmed.

Second, violence and abuse are behaviors—a certain way of expressing various attitudes and emotions. Anger can be part of that mix, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes violence and abuse can be about control, entitlement, sadistic pleasure or prejudice without anger ever entering the picture. Even if anger were always part of violence and abuse, it would be fallacious to assume that one is equal to the other. In order for anger to become violence, there must also be a script.

And by “script” I mean exactly what it sounds like. Shakespeare wasn’t too far off when he likened the world to a stage. Life is filled with little scripts that tell us what to do and say in various situations. Think about the majority of your interactions and how rote they can be in the beginning and end. There might be some variation, but for the most part we all follow a basic model of interaction.

Scripts aren’t instinctual from birth. They’re conditioned and taught through culture and, as a result, often vary from culture to culture. If someone tried to kiss me in greeting, I might duck and run, but if I grew up in Europe, that would not be an awkward way of saying hello.

Whereas our scripts are conditioned, emotions are universal across humanity—the one language that can be understood across cultures—and shared with other species. We tend to downplay the importance of emotion in science, but the fact is emotions serve a pretty significant evolutionary function. Our species could not survive without them. They’re one of the oldest surviving aspects of the mind because they are essential to group interaction.

As an emotion, anger has a purpose. It’s the warning light that goes off when something is wrong. By itself, that warning is neither good nor bad . . . actually, I could argue that it’s good because without that warning light we’d have a hard time knowing when something crossed an important boundary. But for the sake of simplicity, we’ll call it neutral.

We are taught how we’re supposed to react to that warning, and that is where we get into problems. When we think of anger, the scripts that most often come to mind are suppression or rage—neither of which are healthy. In many ways, I also see them as the same response. Anger out of control is anger that can no longer be suppressed. And suppressed anger will eventually become out of control.

Let’s use the analogy of urination. It’s not something we consider all that pleasant, but it is a natural bodily function that we all have. If you can’t pee, there’s something wrong with your body. If you try to suppress your body’s need for too long, sooner or later you’re going to pee uncontrollably all over yourself. If you suppress your body’s need consistently over time, you’ll cause permanent damage.

Similarly, when anger is considered something we need to suppress or drive away from ourselves, the only time it ever finds its way out is when we get to the point that we can’t suppress it any longer. Then, yes, we’re going to get unhealthy and unwanted expressions.

If we consistently fail to give ourselves a healthy outlet for our natural emotions, it will also cause all of those nasty little health problems that everyone associates with “negative emotions.” And if the pee analogy isn’t enough to convince you that the health problems are a result of an unhealthy expression of anger, consider adrenaline. It’s common knowledge by now that too much adrenaline in the body can cause pretty significant damage, especially if adrenaline levels are kept elevated over time (aka stress). But no doctor would argue from that knowledge that we shouldn’t have an adrenaline response. We’re advanced enough in our understanding to recognize that adrenaline serves an important function in the fight/flight response. It gets our body ready to deal with an emergency. We need that ability. But if our adrenaline response is repeatedly triggered and our body isn’t given the proper outlet for releasing that energy, it causes problems.

Why should anger be any different? Go ahead and make note of the unhealthy approaches to anger, but don’t kill the messenger because you don’t know how to make use of the message! Instead, find the positive approaches to anger.

It’s an arousing emotion, meaning it creates energy. Like most people, I used to associate that energy with destruction, in a bad way. It’s true that anger can be destructive, but as a part of creation, destruction can actually be healthy. Sometimes it’s better to end a relationship because it’s toxic. Sometimes it’s better to cut some ties, pull down some walls, demolish some beliefs, and tear up some letters. Anger as a destructive force gives us the energy to bring to an end something that no longer contributes to our health and/or growth.

Kali--goddess of time and change, often a symbol of destruction but also a symbol of creation. My "goddess" of anger.

Kali–goddess of time and change, often a symbol of destruction but also a symbol of creation. My “goddess” of anger.

But, I’ve discovered that anger can also be constructive. Some of my best art has been created during a period of intense anger. It’s been the force behind much of my healing and the impetus that prompted me to create a better life for myself. And I wouldn’t be learning how to build relational boundaries without the anger that tells me when someone has done something that violates my person.

Putting the destruction and construction together, I see anger as the catalyst for change, inspiring activism, social justice, and protests. Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, child labor laws—all of it involved some sort of anger at the injustice of the situation and a desire to see that change. Hell, the U.S. wouldn’t even be here without anger. Anger is a valuable stressor that pushes a system to make adjustments. Otherwise, the system has no reason to change.

Sometimes anger can just be an extra boost of energy. Some of my best workouts have been fueled by anger. I absolutely love running when I’m pissed. Yoga, with angry girl music blasting, is pure exhilaration. And let’s not forget that rumor about angry sex. I’ve been doing my own little experiments on that. I can’t reveal my results, but the gist of my post could probably tip you off. 😉

I’ve even come to see anger as an expression of love! By allowing myself to experience anger over my abuse, I am showing love to myself. By allowing myself to get angry over the injustice that I see against another, I am loving them enough to get upset at the way they are being treated. And I really can’t bring this point out enough—even Jesus (you know, the love your neighbor as yourself guy) got angry enough to build a freaking whip and overturn the tables of a bunch of swindlers.

So, to wrap up my exhausted ramblings, yes, anger can have significant problems associated with it–as can any emotion or natural function that has been demonized and pushed into the recesses of our psyche. And it’s true that living in a constant state of anger can be problematic . . . but to be fair, no emotion is healthy to experience as a constant state of being (not even happiness). So really, the constant state thing is a moot point.

When we no longer try to dictate to ourselves which emotions we’re allowed to feel, the body has its own way of finding balance. Our job is to listen to it (yes I said that last week, but I think it’s important) and sit with the process. We start by questioning the scripts we’ve been taught about our emotions and giving our emotions space to simply be–without judgment, without expectation. Just be.