Courageous conversations and contagious curiosity

I’ve recently found myself listening to two inspiring women about their lives and learnings around identity and how this is worked within social and political constructs. Ash Beckham speaks openly about the need for more honesty and less pedantic policing of needing to get diversity right all the time. Her call is to ‘loosen up’ some of the self-protective mechanisms that hold others to ransom over every utterance they make without holding the possiblitly that perhaps people are not always intentionally biggoted or homophobic. I agree it is important to recognise good will and trying to ‘get it’ needs to be acknowledged, but is often not valued as a legitimate form of connection. Her openess about herself is refreshing as is Lana Wachowski’s private world and in naming the protective power of anonymity. It’s ironic that we seem to have gone from ensuring the world remained black and white with any rainbow descriptions of sexuality, gender identity, pushed into silent void of heteronormative public discourse to one where there is almost an expectation of openness at all times. This might be in part to large shifts in recognition through marriage equality or potentially the polar opposite depending a bit on where you are in the world. But while it would be easy to assume that in general society appears more ‘accepting and inclusive’ and visibility is perhaps preferred to complete invisibility there are some strange and unusual interpretations of how to engage with diversity.

Perhaps my breath holding is more to do with what appears to be a label grab – like some crazy sale once someone is known to have added a sense of ‘colour’ to their identity the protection of invisibilitiy and anonymity is lost. There can be a frenzy of meaning making, a rush to ask personal questions, and lascivious voyeuristic entitlemtent of displaying this label to others. Yet we do need conversations and dialogue if things are to change, but the quality of those conversations needs framing and the misappropriation of curiosity should be challenged. A good example is Anna Paquins recent interview with Larry King where Paquin continually resisted his attempt to grab hold of ‘non-practicing bisexual’ as a label. Her response was eloquent and gives us a great lens to view how the light of private, intimate parts of our identity can be split, redirected and claimed in ways that serve to uneasily represent peoples lives in ways that reinforce harmful alienating assumptions and stereotypes. No she didn’t bite (haha – only funny if you watch True Blood).

The danger is for defensiveness and silence to return to our landscape of knowledge of gender and sexuality to a rearticulation of the binary dualistic matrix. This isn’t necessary or desirable – we need to keep going down the rabbit hole. Where I think is a good place to start is asking about the role of anonymity and privacy and valuing this as much as we value public disclosure. Being critical and sensitive to how language both reveals and constructs us without always needing to censor ourselves can help reflect some of the ways limiting beliefs are constructed. For example the persistent use of prefixes for describing women based on their marital status Miss Mrs Ms – think I might start using ‘M’ on its own, sounds contemplative if you say it out loud.

I am grateful to have the likes of Ash Beckham and Lana Wachowski touch my consciousness. Rainbows both reveal the nature of light but our knowledge has been channelled by the most popular ideas of physics at the time (Newton). Few people know about Goeth who also had a theory about light and challenged Newton. I wonder what he might have to say about the above? Now that would be an interesting conversation.

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