Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Being in minorities

Last month I went to Gay Pride. There is something wonderful about it, something joyous. I never used to understand why people felt the need to go to Pride - I was never proud of my sexuality, it was something that was just a part of me like having 10 toes or blonde hair. I understood why it was important for those who have experienced negative reactions from other people needed to be proud, and that that pride was hard-won, and acceptance and that self-respect hard-won. But I've never had any real negative experience because of my sexuality, not from anyone who really mattered to me, and generally not from the outside world. I understand that I'm very lucky in this, and that people whose family or friends all peers have turned against them because of their sexuality, and also that not looking like a “conventional" lesbian protected me from negativity from the wider society.

But then a couple of years ago I went for the 1st time and I got the experience of being with 1000 other people who reflected some part of yourself which you did not find in mainstream society. Everywhere there were mirrors of myself, everywhere experiences that reflected my own. And not just in sexuality, but in gender too, there were girls dressed as boys, boys dressed as girls, masculine women, feminine men and everything in between. It was a celebration of diversity, of not straightness, not polarised gender, not homogeny. I didn't realise how much I needed that reflection in my life or anticipated how much it affected me that suddenly I went from being in a minority, to being in a majority.

And as a woman I am constantly bombarded with media telling me how I should look or dress, and being surrounded by women whose conception of femininity and attractiveness is so different from my own, and the conception of masculinity which is so far from what is I feel it should be. I live in a binary world of masculine and feminine, not a spectrum. Sexuality is a spectrum. Gender is a spectrum. Diversity is innate within the human species, and yet that is often not reflected in the mainstream world and in media. One of my favourite poems is by Louis MacNeice and it's called Snow, and my favourite verse this one:

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various

It is for similar reasons that I enjoy the Respect Festival in Exeter that I also went to a recently, there is a variety in how people look, how people dress, how people express masculinity or femininity. There is plurality in short. There are people who can talk for much longer and more eloquently about what it means to be a woman, what it means to see gender or sexuality as non-binary, but in all these things I am a minority, and I am not reflected in the mainstream world - whether in films or on TV, in newspapers and magazines, in advertising, in culture - as well as in the real world -  in public, in pubs in shops.

When a young child is growing up, one of the 1st ways they learn who they are, learn that they are separate from the world is when they see themselves in the mirror, in the same way as we grow older our self concept is created from the reflection we find of it in society, the reflection we find in others. But it is, as one feminist said in the documentary Miss Representation (about how girls self-concept is being formed by the media), “you can't be what you see". No reflection = no ability to create accurate concept.

There is a long way to go to creating positive reflections of gender and sexuality for both men and women, but things like Pride play a big role, even if it's just a one-day, of what it's like to find who you are in the world, to see that positively and joyously reflected.  But the minority that is I find it hardest to be in, and in which I feel the most invisible, is in being disabled, and this post has been in some ways a pre-ample to talking about that. For in great irony Louis MacNeice, who wanted the world “incorrigibly plural" described the ideal male poet as “able-bodied", showing a level of Disablism that is still prevalent in our society.

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