I am not good at speaking out when I am hurt by the words of others. I hate confrontation, it makes me uncomfortable. Lately, I have been thinking about the consequences of keeping quiet.
Maybe it is doing more harm than just saying how I feel? I allow other people to harm me because I don’t want to make waves, or make anyone feel bad, or start an argument. I am not protecting myself and I am not challenging misinformation when I hear it. I am allowing these people to become more comfortable in their ignorance and giving them the idea that it is okay to say the things they do.
I am not helping anyone by doing nothing.
Years ago a coworker and I are discussing the possibility of gay marriage. She knows my girlfriend, and she knows we have been together for many years. She has always been very nice to us and I was shocked when she revealed to me that she did not agree that lesbians and gays should be allowed to marry. She explained that she was a catholic and while she understood that there were rights my girlfriend and I would never have she could not agree that we should.
I should have told her that she was wrong and that we did deserve those rights. I should have explained to her how much it hurt me and my girlfriend to know that we wanted it for all the right reasons and that it hurt more than she could ever understand to be denied by the government. I should have told her that watching politicians compare me and my love to molesters and abusers made me cry at night. Or I should have just walked away.
Instead, I told her I understood, and that everyone was entitled to their opinion. I made her feel ok when she had not only been inappropriate, but hurtful.
I sat back in the office with “the guys”, a group of 4 or 5 men I worked with every day and called my friends. They were watching a video comparing a woman’s level of “crazy” to her level of attractiveness. The premise being that the better looking she was the crazier she is going to be. At the end, it states that if you are with an attractive woman and she isn’t crazy, then she is a man. Sounds like a bit of transphobia too.
I should have told them what they were saying was sexist and harmful. I should have told them that playing that video in front of me made me feel like they weren’t being very good friends to me. I should have told them that it was invalidating and frustrating for women to never been taken seriously and for men to make jokes about it. I should have told them this was not appropriate and not what I came to work to hear. Or I should have just walked away.
Instead, I murmured something about that not being right, and when they laughed me off I laughed along too. I let them carry on their joke because I didn’t want to be a killjoy.
A coworker is making a joke about there being no other black people in the room while I and a friend who has albinism are sitting right there. My friend speaks up first, her skin may be white but she is just as black as this coworker. The coworker tells her to calm down and motions to me, “It’s ok, Lisa doesn’t count either”.
I should have told her that despite my skin tone and despite what privilege may come with it, it is not ok to say I don’t count. I have been hearing that my whole life and I do not care to hear it in my place of work. I should have told her that perpetuating the idea that mixed people don’t belong anywhere. I should have told her that growing up mixed wasn’t easy, that never being one or the other, and being hated by both hurts you before you can even understand why. I should have told her what she said reminded me of all that and hurt me all over again. Or I should’ve walked away
Instead, I only replied sarcastically that I know I don’t count, I never have and never will, and then I am silent. I let her treat me the way other people had treated me my whole life because I had given up fighting.
I am learning to sift through my feelings about these little hurts I deal with all the time. I am learning how to articulate them in way that other people will understand why these words hurt and when these ideas are harmful. I am learning not to let people get away with hurting me just because something is funny or because it makes them feel better.
I am learning not to feel bad for protecting myself from people who perpetuate problematic ideas just because it makes those people uncomfortable to have their words challenged.
I am my number one priority and I need to remember to treat myself that way.
Inspiration and title of this post comes from 10 Personal Rights That I, As a Black, Non-Binary, Queer Person, Refuse to Compromise On via Everyday Feminism