Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Living a Public and Private Life as a Profeminist

image is from photobucket here
With my next post being my 1700th, I thought it was about time I shared with my readers a few thoughts about being a socially advantaged white male and an anti-racist pro-feminist.

I've been blogging for coming up on four years (well, three and a half at this point, although to be honest it feels like seven or eight). Few of my posts are about me... I mean really ABOUT ME. There are several reasons for this. One is that I feel and think there's far too much "white males talking about ourselves" happening habitually offline and on. Also, this blog, increasingly, has become woman of color-centered and woman of color-focused, with some posts about white women's work and men of color's work, and a few tossed in about work being done by white men.

I've seen so many white males develop political agendas and perspectives that assume that what happens to white males is happening to everyone--the way it happens to white men. Not only is this false on many levels, but something happens when we make men and whites the center of our viewpoints and political agendas. What happens is, by effect or by intent, women of color's lives get invisibilised, distorted, or subsumed in the assumptions about humanity that go along with centering white men as the standard of being human.

Also, though, there's the issue of what happens when white males speak out about anything at all. People listen to us differently, often enough. And the way that white males insinuate ourselves into history books and academic journals, in Western religious teachings and secular law-making, in global affairs and sports, in medicine and music, as the heroes", "the great ones", "the experts" and "the geniuses", I am left feeling a bit reluctant to promote or communicate much about myself here.

I won't publish photos of myself for many reasons but one reason is that once a white male has a public face, that face may then be associated with all the things that are typically and habitually afforded white men in racist patriarchal societies. I also won't appear on radio or television even though I've been asked. I won't become a public figure "in person" because I think doing so ends up promoting the person at least as much as the things the person is addressing in media. I've gotten into some trouble with this. Some people think I should be far more "out there" and "public" about myself.

I've also been asked to co-lead some feminist groups. Not gonna happen. I don't believe males should do so. I've seen it happen and the way it usually works is this: white women work with white men to promote feminist practices, or men of color work with white men to promote anti-racist political perspectives. What happens time and again ad nauseam is that women of color are left out and left behind, in the work of whites and men.

What also happens a lot is that white men earn money for promoting feminist ideas and for teaching Women's Studies courses (I am on record as believing that under no circumstances should white men teach Women's Studies courses--there are too many out-of-work women of all colors with the training and education to do so). And there are white men who earn a living on their anti-racist views while people of color--especially women of color--generally earn nothing at all for promoting and advocating anti-racist practice and political work. Enough members of the liberal and progressive side of society adores the white men who do this work and public and private institutions rewards them much more than they reward women of color who do this work--far longer than the white men have been doing it. It is also the case that I can do my work not-for-money and still pay my bills. So I acknowledge that economic privilege being a factor in my refusal to be paid for any political work I do.

My whiteness and maleness shows up in my work, hopefully in self-critical, transparent, and responsible ways. That's my objective. Along with all the other readers, I want white males to read this work and see what it means to value the work of women of color--to witness an example of that happening. The fact that I know of no other white males who do this alerts me to the emergency of white males ignoring the lives and theories of politically active women of color. Not that we're surprised.

I have an emotional life. I have a private life. Each is shaped by my social and structural advantages and disadvantages. My life straddles many hierarchies. Most of my political work, by far, is done offline and most of my readers don't know about that work because that's how I've organised my life. I live privately while also fully accountable to all the women in my private life. I've welcomed the women who know me well (meaning: not just someone who I've exchanged a few emails with) to make public anything that they experience as misogynistic or a form of mistreatment. My friendships with women go back a long time from over twenty-five years to just a couple of years; thus far no woman in my personal life has found it necessary to publicly report on my behaviors as being harmful to them personally or to women generally.

This certainly doesn't mean I haven't triggered or upset women in my private life. I have--far too often. While I believe there's no way to be emotionally involved with someone without that happening, I'd add that I've also taken way too long to "get it" about some of the ways I've been emotionally triggering, to one woman in particular. Our friendship has survived my too-slow pace and fortunately that triggering hasn't happened for many months. I work hard at being accountable, which for me means being present, empathic, caring, responsible, and responsive. I don't value mind games and emotional coercion. I detest meanness and cruelty. I'm not a physically aggressive person, I suspect because I didn't grow up in homes that were that way: I didn't learn how to be physically aggressive and when picked on and bullied, I never fought back. I'm glad I've never punched or hit anyone, not that the bullies didn't deserve to be stopped. But I doubt my punches would have stopped them.

Most of my friendships are with women and I've arranged, with sufficient health care coverage in place, to bring most of my own inner and difficult emotional work to a health care professional not to my women friends: we all know how rapidly and readily men and males use women as their emotional care-takers.

I've let most of my friendships with men lapse. But there are a few that are in place and are meaningful to me. (That means you, Katlego.) One of the reasons I'm not just asexual but also celibate and non-romantic is because I know that were I to get involved with a man it would steer too much of my life towards him and away from women. It's also the case that PTSD and other personal struggles rule out me being intimate (not meaning 'sexual') with men. There's nothing especially self-effacing, altruistic, self-negating, or noble going on here in my life, just to be clear. And, also for the record: I'm gay and am not bisexual; I do not get romantically or sexually involved with women. Another reason for me being celibate (which is not a given for asexuals--we are conditioned, after all, to believe we ought to be sexually active in some way, shape, or form), is that I've seen how pro-feminist males fuck up other people's lives in fleeting or longer-term sexual relationships, heterosexually and homosexually. I won't be "that guy".

The deep and long-term friendships I have with radical and feminist women serve me well and I hope serve them well too. I am grateful for each one of them.